Paying for open source software

I was just reading this blogpost from Elementary OS. According to this article in Liliputing, the aforementioned blogpost had originally used the word “cheating” to describe those who do not pay for open sourced software, but they have edited it to remove that. I can only imagine the frustration of trying to make and maintain open sourced software on one’s own finances. ( @bryanlunduke helped me understand that with some projects he talked about in the past) I appreciate these people’s dedication and drive to do so. The post mentions the various ways some have tried to finance their project, but that they, at elementary, rely on users for funding. At the first, I was uneasy, feeling pressured to support financially, but then they made their position clear and then I was able to appreciate more the fix they find themselves in. I am at a loss as to what they could do to improve their situation though.

They are, now, doing the right thing. Accusing people of “cheating” by not paying did not go down well, but @danrabbit edited that out of the blog post because it was the most entitled thing ever written and they’ve now changed it :smile:

I think this is a good approach they’re taking. I’m not sure it’ll work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. It’ll be interesting to see the results; I hope there is some measure of success there, because an open source project managing to (a) fund itself from its users and (b) identifying a set of users who like it and have money and appreciate elegance rather than shell scripts will be a useful thing in itself.

How much dialog has there been in the open source community as to funding the people who produce it? As mentioned in the blog, only a small fraction of 1% contribute to the project.

@oldgeek, when I saw the blog post I immediately thought of what Bryan was saying in one of the first Bad Voltage episodes (probably the one you mentioned above).

Funding “end user stuff” open source is extremely hard, because it doesn’t directly benefit to huge industries/companies who could support it, so it’s left to end users who usually don’t think they have to pay since it’s open source (therefore free, right? ;)).

Big open source projects like Ardour and even smaller ones like Aseprite propose to pay for the compiled version while leaving the source code available for anyone to compile by themselves. I know Ardour’s developer has already written about how hard it was to get enough money to be considered a full-time employee devoted to Ardour’s development.

One of the way that’s been explored recently is about paying money to get a bug fixed or a feature developed. This can be interesting if there is enough money given by people to fund someone’s job for a year, but I don’t think it’s the case (@sil, maybe you know more about this bounty thing for bug-fixing?).

Reposting my thoughts on bounties from a reddit thread a while back:

Well. Here is the problem, and why I think that bounties just don’t work as a concept.
Let’s pick an item from bountysource at random. I chose There’s obviously some sort of bug in the HUD when Firefox has lots of bookmarks. That’s going to involve a developer setting up a Firefox profile with a load of bookmarks, building a debug version of the HUD, running Firefox, seeing where the HUD is incorrectly using lots of memory, working out how to fix that, fixing it, submitting a change back to Ubuntu, getting that change reviewed, possibly fixing any review comments, and then seeing that the new code gets packaged and fixes the problem. I don’t know for sure, but that’s gotta be a minimum of, say, four hours work. It might take longer (it might take a lot longer) but let’s imagine it takes four hours.

Average salary for a UK software developer is £30,109, but let’s take the lower limit of what they say there, which is £20,639, or 20639/52/40 ~= £10/hour. So that’s £40, or sixty US dollars.

What’s the bounty? Ten dollars.

(note: it was at time of writing. It got jacked up as a result of this discussion! This is obviously nice but doesn’t work as a general principle!)

So it’s asking someone to give up a minimum of half a day and basically not get paid for it, or get paid a sixth of their normal rate for it. And that’s if it only takes half a day, and only if you’re currently at the absolute rock bottom of the pay scale.

The usual objection here is that bounties aren’t there to incentivise a developer to do a thing that they don’t want to do (which is what salary is for); it’s there so when you fix a bug that you were going to fix anyway, you get a nice little ten buck reward for doing it. Or possibly that if you decide you’re going to fix a bug today, that you’ll look at the list of bugs that you might fix and pick the one which has a bounty, because, hey, free ten dollars! That’s OK; it’s a reasonable argument. But that argument means that bounties themselves don’t incentivise anyone to fix a bug… and therefore there is little to no point in hassling people to add more bounty money, because it doesn’t actually get more bugs fixed.

There is another argument which is rarely explicitly stated, but goes something like: well, this is free software. It doesn’t cost anything. So it shouldn’t need to be paid for at market rates; paying someone twenty dollars for a week’s work is perfectly reasonable, because freedom. Screw that argument.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t like bounties. If you want something fixed and you’re willing to pay for it, hire someone to fix it; that’ll get it fixed, and you’ll pay market rate for their time. If you want something fixed and don’t want to pay for it, then I really don’t believe that waving the price of a coffee at someone will help, in the same way that demanding that it be fixed because you need it won’t help. Instead, give a developer an actual incentive to fix the bug you care about – maybe offer to fix a bug that they care about in return, or offer to contribute to their project by making a tutorial video or writing some new user documentation or knitting them a scarf, or ask them what you can do in return so that they make your thing a priority instead of what they planned to do.

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An idea expressed was to do the crowd-funding thing to finance an open sourced project. While I can see that might work for an emerging product, I am skeptical about how that would work in the long run, never minding the expense of time and resources to manage a crowd-funding campaign.

I don’t have allot of money, nor do I give allot of money. But there are certain things I find value in, so I throw them a bone now and then. And I let people know I throw a bone. In hopes I set an example to help these projects out. Again I don’t give a ton of money. $10 here or there. I’m a $2.50 patreon of ubuntu-mate. I’ve given, to elementary, ubuntu, mint, rednotebook, mozilla…etc… If I really like what I am using and I still didn’t spend $300 on a software license, I think it’s my duty to throw some of my few pennies to these projects way. Hell I use them everyday. And by tweeting my donations I hope it tells my few followers in social media that its an ok/easy thing to do.

It’s one of those things where the more people that do it, the more that will start doing it. I think the fact that the opensource community has related the word free to software, people feel a little entitled. If we all gave $1,$5,$10 every few months. It would not hurt anyones pocketbook I think, and would help these projects tremendously.

my 2cents


Couldn’t agree more, if you can help you should, maybe by providing support for other users, your programming skills if you have the required skills or cash.

The important thing for me with FOSS is not that it’s free as in beer, but free as in liberty.


They Elementary OS guys are kind of snarky eh?

I thin ultimately, financing open source software, in a lot of cases, isn’t 100% reasonable. I think operating systems are a special case. There are many cases where smaller projects can’t realistically expect funding that can sustain 1+ more software engineers.

I don’t mind throwing down some free code if it solves an annoying problem, and my name stays on it. That’s all I ask.

However, there are few categories of problems that really need dedicated attention, but are also hard to finance. Graphics drivers, Video Editing suites… things where closed source still reigns surpreme. I feel that these usually take the work of specialists who have limited time.

It’s sad that this is the case, but it’s true. I don’t shaming people with bounties is necessarily the answer. Rather, I believe that encouraging more people to volunteer by developing a friendly and diverse open source community is a better answer.

Unfortunately freedom #2 ( requires that anybody be allowed to distribute your software. This makes it very hard to make money since somebody is always willing to distribute your software for free even if you are not and people will take the path of least money.

Personally freedom #2 has never sat well with me.

Freedom #2 also means that you can get stuck in lengthy rights debates when software has multiple contributors and owners. Say if you have just one driver that’s GPL’ed or some such.

Once I dealt with a piece of hardware where the hardware itself was CC (No probs!) but little did we know the firmware was GPL3. Well, that was all fine until a user (not the author mind you.) decided we were bad people for not distributing a physical slip of paper in the box announcing the GPL’ed ness of the code. Now we had been announcing the GPL’ed ness, and yes, we did distribute the source code (which was already on github for all to see anyway.) but little did our non law comprehending brains know it, but the GPL 3 has a clause which says that yes you absolutely must put a bona-fide real paper slip in the box announcing the license of the firmware. Being anti-paper as many techies are, we were very confused by this, but the paper went in the box all the same.

Meanwhile said user (again, not the author) went on a war path, accusing us for months of everything short of conspiracy to hide the source. We had been printing the slips of paper for months before he accpeted that yes, in fact we were letting our customers (who were hardware people, and had very little idea what the GPL was) know what the GPL was.

That experience made me feel very fuzzy about the BSD license right then. Real fuzzy

I know it makes me a bad open source person, but I always feel like the GPL people are about to attack me. The guy in the story above meant well, but jeez man. Jeez.

Did the accusations involve kittens and puppies? :open_mouth:

Wow, what a convoluted mess. I can understand if someone would say “hey, you missed something in the license”, but to go to lengths to discredit you? Again, all I can say is: Wow.


… HI I was the guy that you had that reddit back-and-forth about.
my question is: Can you find an on-line profile of someone that should be willing to fix this or any other bug listed under ‘Ubuntu’ on bountysource ? Otherwise, it’s pretty pointless saying: Get a dev & pay them … if I have no contacts in the dev communit, isn’t it ?

secondly, thank-you for bringing this discussion to the fore on here rather than elsewhere as it’s badvoltage, deffo.

Cheers, good videos recently too.

Where I’d start with finding a development company (if I didn’t have contacts in the dev community) is contacting Canonical themselves at and they will have details of companies who provide custom Ubuntu development. (Same way if I wanted to know about suppliers of parts for an Electrolux microwave, I’d contact Electrolux.)

Since we’re talking about Ubuntu, I always wondered this:

Does Canonnica pay people to answer questions on forums / irc?

I’ve talked to people on freenode #ubuntu who sound very much like ubuntu reps. This can be nice, but I always kind of assume I am getting help from a disinterested expert with extra time on chat, rather than a trained “support” person.

Unix expert says “Your bootloaders fucked. Check out this config”

Trained support drone says “Did you run sudo apt-get upgrade? do that first or I wont even help.”

@baordog There is a bounty for just that objective for paying people for forum and comment content on bountysource. As in truth, there can be a bounty for anything: like biscuits for tea etc.
But as far as Canonical using smthing like centup for content of discussion; I doubt it, v.much so.

Sidenote: I sent a webletter to canonical using my private eMail … @sil should hear within a week.
So in conclusion: The only you’d pay someone for a bug comment is through and not .
Launchpad full integration with some mentioning of bounties on the code tab of the ppa/team pages is on-going, with more Moulin Rouge required. But it starts with a measly [̲̅$̲̅(̲̅5̲̅)̲̅$̲̅] to declare your interests. Which I consider laser-guided charity and the best way to crowdfund code, altruistically and anonymously.
Time critical bounties are a particular thought crumpet of mine at the moment too, with rappo.

I guess the ultimate adoptation or repeal of the bountysource ethic would be whether if you acknowledged their ways - by donating, charitably to that bounty. Publicly, if you wanna have public paper trail (some do), privately if you’re a true altruist and don’t care who knows where the money emanated from.
Equally, this harmonises completely with the internet 3.0 , and I consider bountysource to be a NET 3.0 company.

Also as an afterthought was given a spotlight in a recent post on bountysource.

I’m quite luckily in that I work for a company that pays me to work on Open Source and have contributed to several Open Source projects that way.

Several years ago I was a core developer on something called the Drizzle project. It started out in Sun Microsystems as pretty much taking MySQL 6.0 (never GA’d) source code and turning it into a clean micorkernel architecture. In the first year we had a goal of 50% of the contributions coming from outside of Sun, we exceeded that goal as Oracle kicked out all the developers and they were hired by Rackspace :smile:

We had many contributions from other people, especially students wanting to learn C/C++. We were also in GSoC every year which pays university students (quite well for junior level) for bounties on features.

There are many different ways of monetising Open Source development, my friend and colleague Mark Atwood could talk at length on this.

Elementary’s way is good if people pay, but the key thing they were missing in their post was many people have indirectly contributed to Elementary OS. It is based on Ubuntu which in-turn is a collection of Open Source packages with thousands of contributors. Put up your hand if you have ever filed a bug for Ubuntu? Filing a bug is a contribution even if you can write code, it is effectively part of QA which is a very expensive process in software development. There are many other things such as documentation, adding to a wiki, blog posts, etc… which are all contributions that have value which are not code.

Drizzle’s downfall in the end was that Rackspace pulled funding for core developers and the model used meant that without core developers to review code the project stagnated. On a positive note many of the features coming in MySQL 5.7 and beyond are based on our work on the Drizzle project.

Anyway, as big businesses are finding out that funding Open Source development of project outside of their own company is not a cost centre it is starting to find new ways in getting more developers and other skills to the projects.


It looks like Kickstarter can work for adding new features to Open Source projects:

@sil Just looking at that address you gave me for contacting canonical ?

Maybe this one should be more fruitful - as it’s been over fortnight and I’ve yet to receive an answer.

I’ll do this in good time. But I don’t expect to get a response anytime this month.

Please respect our code of conduct which is simple: don't be a dick.