Originally Published: Friday, 29 October 1999 Author: Luke Groeninger
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Open Source Pricing Models

Has anybody noticed the pricing models that companies use when selling Open Source Software and Free Software? After looking around at Best Buy, I became convinced that some of the Linux distributions were being sold by a company's finance department -- not by anyone who cares about the Free Software spirit....

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Has anybody noticed the pricing models that companies use when selling Open Source Software and Free Software? After looking around at Best Buy, I became convinced that some of the Linux distributions were being sold by a company's finance department -- not by anyone who cares about the Free Software spirit.

Convinced that this was merely a problem with Best Buy, who was selling Red Hat Linux 6.1 for $79.95, I went to the source of this issue, Red Hat's online store, and found that they did indeed sell it for $79.95. This, as was confirmed by many people I have talked to, is absolutely incredible, not to mention insane. Granted, they also sell a $29.99 version and a $149.99 version that are the "base" and the "professional" versions, respectively. 150 bucks for a Linux distribution largely based on Free Software? Why would anyone want to spend more for an operating system than they would for Windows, especially one that is supposedly free?

Is there an alternative to this madness? Many, many alternatives exist to this problem. The first, which I don't suggest for anyone except users of broadband technology, is to download Red Hat Linux off of the 'net. This can take quite a long time, as anyone who has been involved with Linux before it was mass-produced can testify to. Another alternative is to buy the $29.99 version or to buy a book bundle, which does not include the phone support that the higher levels include. The third major alternative is my personal favorite: don't use Red Hat Linux.

Well, unfortunately, the last alternative can be quite hard to accomplish. Red Hat Linux seems to be everywhere that computers are sold, and all the other distributions seem to be hard to find. Debian, my personal favorite GNU/Linux distribution, did not have commercial backing until recently. This unfortunately means that you cannot find it in stores, except with book bundles, which I have only seen at one major bookstore near where I live.

This should be changing soon, as VA Linux Systems, O'Reilly Associates and SGI have announced that they are going to support the Debian Project by sponsoring the introduction of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system to major retail stores. This, with a rumored suggested introduction price of $29.99, is truly the way that GNU/Linux was meant to be: just enough to cover manufacturing and shipping costs, with all profit made from sales of it going to Software in the Public Interest, a non-profit organization for Open Source projects including Debian.

Maybe I am over-reacting about Red Hat and their pricing models, but I don't think so. Charging $79.99 or $149.99 for a piece of software is something that Microsoft would do, but not something that a Free Software supporter would do.

Luke Groeninger is, among other things, currently a full-time student, where approximately 50% of his time is spent working on computers and servers for his school, the rest of it doing work. He can be reached at dghost@linux.com with questions/comments. All flame will be forwarded to /dev/null.





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