Open source software is not free software. And if you treat all open source software as if it is free, you are jeopardizing not only your career, but also your company. It is just bad legally. Therefore, it is important that we discuss open source software and the different ways that open source software vendors get paid.
So what does open source exactly mean? What open source software means is that whenever a programmer sits down and begin writing the code for a software, they provide you with the code only so that you can see how the program was written. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is free. So how do these programmers earn with an open source license? There are four different ways that these open source vendors or programmers get paid.
The first one is through the open source model where they give the software free of charge, but when you require training or support for the software, that is where you have to pay them a certain amount. Let us say for example you downloaded the mySQL software for your Linux server. You download the mySQL program, tinkered around with it for a little bit, and then you find out that it is extremely useful and powerful.
Even though you already figured out most of the intricacies of the mySQL program, there are still certain aspects of it that you need to learn, or need support with. So, you go approach the software developer and ask for support and training. This is the point where you have to pay them a certain amount. This is one of the ways these developers or programmers get paid for their development efforts.
The second way developers and vendors get paid through an open source license is through a non-commercial, personal-use-only open source license. This is where most people, including veteran system administrators, get into a lot of trouble.
It is true that some open source licensed software will allow you to obtain a program completely free. You can use them in a computer lab or any kind of experimental environment without having to worry about the legal implications. Why? Because it is for personal or non-commercial use only.
The problem, or the part that usually gets an administrator in hot water, is as soon as they take that server from the test lab and screw it into a server rack in the production environment, the commercial use starts to kick in.
If you are a geek at home and you want to play around with the software, there is no problem at all. Once you use it to power up a business server, or maybe host a home business website for example, you now own a licensing fee for that software.
The gruesome thing about it is that these licensing fees can be anywhere between $5,000 and $ 10,000. It is that expensive. Therefore, it is only prudent that you be conscious on how you use the software, whether it is for personal, non-commercial, or commercial use.
The third way open source software programmers or vendors get paid is through a paid open source license. Some of you might be asking, how can a software be on an open source license if it is a paid software right off the bat? Well, a paid software will always be considered as open source if they let you see the code. The idea basically is, if you want the product, you pay the vendor or developer the licensing fee and you buy it just like if you are dealing with Microsoft, Adobe, etc. The difference with open source software in this model is, even though you bought the software and can see the code, you may not have the legal right to modify that code.
If you are the type of user who likes modify code to tailor-fit a particular software according to your specific needs, you should lookout and avoid software that has this type of open source model.
The fourth way these open source vendors get paid is through a recurring open source license fee. Again, this is like most open source licenses out there. They let you download and test the software free of charge. They would even let you see the code, just so you know how the software actually works.
However, in order for you to have the legal right to actually use the software, they would have to charge you a yearly fee. This is usually cheaper than a one-time licensing fee, but is expensive nonetheless.
Here is an example: Let us say you downloaded Foxit PDF reader for free. You can use the software, test out its most promising features, and even see the code to figure out how it does what it does. But in order use the software legally, fully unlock its most useful features, and also have technical support for it, you have to pay the developers a yearly recurring fee.
So, as you can see, knowing how open source licensing works is far more important to your business than simply being able to set up a server. This is the kind of thing that can cause massive amounts of damage to you and your company. If you install multiple servers with open source licensed software and you do not know the licensing requirements, that may be a catastrophic problem. Remember, open source does not mean it is free. It has nothing to do with free. A huge amount of open source only happens to be free. However, that doesn’t mean open source software is completely free.
What open source means is that you are allowed to see the source code that created the program. This doesn’t mean you’re allowed to modify the source code. You may not even be able to do a single thing to the source code. But at least you’re allowed to see the source code so that you understand what is happening. If there are flaws, or if there are security holes, you can actually see that in the code. As you can see, Linux can go from being really affordable to being stupidly expensive in an instant. And these maintenance contracts are one of the things that can make it extremely expensive. Open source licensing, as we mentioned, can make or break your career. So make sure you take it seriously.