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It has been a very busy month. SYS-CON Media recently began its complete overhaul of the LinuxWorld.com Web site, which we now publish as the online counterpart to LinuxWorld Magazine, which we're launching this month at LinuxWorld in San Francisco. With this overhaul came all the logistics of moving and hosting the Web site LinuxWorld.com having been previously run by International Data Group (IDG). Naturally we went with a Linux-based infrastructure as it would have been sacrilegious to do anything else!

This was your classic open source solution; no software licenses to pay and the download was quick and painless. The term "open source" doesn't sit too well with me though; I think it needs to be called what it is. I don't feel comfortable using it let me explain.

When I downloaded and installed Apache I didn't need the source code. When I ran up the server and configured it, I didn't need the source code. When I read the documentation on how to configure some of the more advanced options, again, I didn't need to refer to the source code.

For us and the vast number of sites running Apache (nearly 27 million according to NetCraft, July 2003), the fact that Apache's source code is available doesn't matter to us. We are neither skilled nor have the time to actually look at it properly. For us, it's free software. I could paint the same story using MySQL, JEdit, Eclipse, or Ant.

Are you choosing (insert your free product of choice) because it's free or because it's open source? I hope you're choosing it because it's good and the best tool for the job. But what if they decided to start charging for it tomorrow. Would you pay for it? Would a nominal charge be acceptable? For example, would $1 per installation be too much? For Apache that could be $27 million in revenue.

There is no such thing as free in legal terms. A contract always has to be worth at least something and the usual amount is $1. Why? Probably because it's not of any monetary significance for anyone to complain. I would be more than happy to pay the "nominal" amount and put back into the system for the original developers' efforts.

But the term "free software" or "freeware/shareware" doesn't seem to be a sexy enough title. It's been around for years but still has a stigma attached to it. It doesn't capture the hearts and minds of the masses like the term "open source" does. Free software seems to have a perceived notion that it's of inferior quality to its commercial counterparts. As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth. The list price for a particular piece of software in no way guarantees its quality.

Open source is too misleading. The romantic notion of finding a bug, fixing it yourself, applying it back into the main build for the benefit of the larger community is so far from the truth that it's laughable. Open source projects (the successful ones) are very closely controlled with only a handful of designated people allowed to commit changes. But this is one of the reasons they are successful; the software is kept under tight control and not allowed to morph out of hand.

But the term "free" doesn't work either. Moving back to the model of $1-per-download, we could give it another name and call it "nominal licensing." Needs to be catchier than that I fear! But it would lift us away from the "freeware" stigma and be friendlier than open source.

We are moving toward a freer choice of tools/software, allowing us to choose based on functionality and performance as opposed to which one has the cheapest price tag.

About The Author
Alan Williamson, when not answering your e-mails and working on the next issue of JDJ, heads up a small team dubbed the "Thunderbirds of the Java industry," providing on- and offsite rescue for Java projects in trouble. For more information visit www.javaSOS.com.
You can also read his blog: http://alan.blog-city.com. [email protected]

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