Benjamin Horst, an open source enthusiast and a long-time OpenOffice.org user, is running a fundraiser to publish a full-page ad (or a few if he manages to raise enough for reruns) in New York’s Metro newspaper. At the time I write this post, they’re less than $100 short of the first ad, so if you’ve got a few bucks to share, please do so. And if you don’t, then you can help just by sharing the word.
I can already imagine some hardcore capitalist types grinning and saying “Free software ain’t free at all, you see?”. Now there are at least three answers to that.
First, free software is about freedom, not price. And freedom has always been expensive. Slaves were fed and housed by their masters, but for some strange reason even those who didn’t get beaten or molested tried to save up and buy themselves free.
Second, there is no such thing as free lunch. Free software is another business model — one that is built not around direct monetary compensation to a single (individual or corporate) developer, but numerous contributions from the community to the community. These contributions vary according to the abilities of contributors: while a large software house could donate a few patents or several man-years worth of coding work, an individual user can help by reporting a bug or kicking in $10 to help get the ad published. Most of free software — including OpenOffice.org — is free to use, distribute, and modify. You are not required to contribute anything. But you can help if you want to.
And last but not least, if you don’t have the money (or willingness) to pay several hundreds of dollars or euros for a proprietary office suite, then you effectively have three options: resorting to pen and paper, installing a pirated copy, or using free software. The first is terribly ineffective and the second is illegal. The choice is yours.