Well there a differentiation is made between “Free as in Speech” (closer to Opensource philosophy) and “Free as in Beer” (closer to free Software philosophy) For the uninitiated (one the two “Free”s), explanation is at the bottom of this post. For the purpose of this post, however, this distinction will be kept aside. Since for the aspect I am going to discuss, this is not relevant.
Free/Opensource does not yet have a viable business model. Certain things have cliked, like ad-revenues for Google. Other things are working on donations and funds raised. But mostly a self-sustaining business model is absent. Why are there so many things in the free domain today then. Because there are people who love doing those things and are finding time, despite it not generating much income, to do it. And there are certain people, who are ready to pay to support those things, despite knowing that it is being used by several who have contributed neither in development, nor financially. They are okay with it.
Read this interview by Wikiepdia Founder. Fundraisers are working. And now they can support themselves. But that certainly was not the case since the beginning. He did it, because he wanted to do it. And there was only this much money he wanted for themselves, which he had!
Now, let’s talk of India (and other developing/udnerdeveloped countries for that matter). The insecurity in lives are so high that no matter at what position you reach, no matter how much you have already earned, you will not leave or compromise on the secure, predictable life to do something you “really want to do”. And despite all the talks about increasing income of certain segments, there are few who would donate for purposes like that.
So long as we can use what people is USA are building and supporting, it’s fine. But then things need to be customized to make it truly relevant in our context. New and different things might need to be developed. Who will do it? Who will support all that? Not until we have a viable business model can we tap the much touted talent pool to make something happen for us.
And till that business model comes, Free Software won’t work for India.
On Free as in Beer and Free as in Speech
What is this “Free Speech/Free Beer” thing that I see discussed in the comments?
This is a shorthand expression that refers to one of the core debates in the Free Software and Open Source movement. It stems from a shortcoming in the English language: the word “free” has two meanings. The first is “free” as in “free speech.” This is the Latin word “Liber.” When you see “free speech,” the writer is talking about a fundamental human right like freedom of speech.
The other half is easy to understand for cheapskates. Beer costs money. “Free beer” just means that someone doesn’t want to pay money for something.
The other aspect to this is the subtle difference between the Open Source Initiative and The Free Software Foundation. OSI believes that software can be developed better if it is done in the open. The FSF believes that it is ethically wrong for software to be closed. This is, of course, an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
The zealots are pretty loud on all of these points, and understanding them is critical to understanding many of the central debates on Slashdot.
If you want to learn more about this issue, you might start by checking out the following websites: