stargrave [opinions]
11/20/2009

Free software in real business

fsmsh.com/3246 [free-software] [business] [commercial] [benefits] [advantages] [real-life] [example]

Preamble

There are many "theoretical" talks about how free software can be used commercially, that it can greatly stimulate business activity and so on. There are very few real life examples of that. And most of them, as I can see, firstly had just common classical proprietary model of software development and only later some of them either freed their products or at least opened. As I can understand, only after fear of competition had gone they tried to made timid steps to open-source (as nearly none of them really understand difference between open-source and free software (as most of users too)) just to seem good and king in society's eyes.

Now I want to tell you some kind of so-called success story of one company (where I work nowadays): company that chose freedom path as a base for software development. Actually it does not specialize itself on software, but on high-performance server solutions and storage systems manufacturing.

The first step that is troublesome

In all innocence first time we met need to develop own software -- it was as common classical proprietary non-free closed-source product. It was some kind of firmware for brandmauer/router based on free software project -- m0n0wall, licenced under 2-clause BSD. This licence allows (being not copyleft) one to make proprietary derivate works -- that was crucial for us.

There were many features added to it (good thing there weren't either serious security issues or bugs), but because of our fear to "shine" with it we decided not to communicate with foreign developers anyhow. Also there were licence's ambiguities with remaining different included software.

And what is the result? Of course we gained some money from selling it, but not because of users willing to buy exactly it, rather because there was not any acceptable choice for them: cheap server meant to be brandmauer with plenty of useful abilities is sold only including our proprietary software.

Freedom run

During high quality granted server's manufacturing we have to test all hardware components separately and all of them together in the whole system. Besides there must be firmware upgrade process (motherboard BIOS'es, BMC's, hardware RAID-controller's firmware, etc) and operating system installation automatization. All of these is needed to remove human factor as much as we can and to complete orders in time.

So we needed very complicated all-time progressing hardware testing system. There appeared Inquisitor software project, actually with roots going much deeper in time. Decision about it's freeness was taken without a peep.

What benefits we got? Let's look:

What disadvantages has Inquisitor being free software? None!

Crisis-driven development

But as we all know there appeared world economic crisis. There, in Russia, it should be destructive for high technology fields, as as a rule they cost too much to afford. Actually it was so of course.

That time we thought about how can we lower our expenses. As software developers, we decided to throw out proprietary very expensive network attached storage's (NAS) software and to replace it with cheaper or priceless (freeware) one.

Moreover, there were other disadvantages in those proprietary NAS products:

We can not sell NAS-related storage server without that software and no user will buy it, but both of us have to pay for it very high price. We tried to find replacement for it: there were enough very different free and open-source software solutions, but none of them satisfied us (only technical reasons). We decided to write own one and of course release it as free software.

We have got what we wanted and even more:

User has got also several benefits from all of this:

We are satisfied, consumers satisfied -- can it be true that everything is fine? Of course no: those proprietary software producing company, that do not care about user's freedom, concealing everything it can, forcing everyone do what it orders without sidesteps, willing only to retrieve everything from others pockets, is not satisfied at all. It is unethical and immoral to be like these companies and one can not consider them as an alternative.

Conclusion

As I tried to show you, free software really and successfully can be used in commercial. Of course it is not so easy, but whole humanity benefits from it except money-willing individuals. And even during economic crisis it can help to survive on the market.


Sergey Matveev (software developer at ETegro Technologies)


License

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