Does Elementary OS Starts To Diverge From ‘The Open Source Way’?

When an open source project actively discourages users from downloading it for free, would you still be considering supporting and contributing to it? In a recent article about Elementary OS “Freya” 2nd beta, I’ve posted a link at the bottom of the post which takes you to a page where you can download the OS.

Updated Sep 18, 2016Editorials
Elementary OS diverges from open source1

In a recent article about Elementary OS “Freya” 2nd beta, I’ve posted a link at the bottom of the post which takes you to a page where you can download the OS.

You’ve probably noticed that the project now has a new website and along the new beta, which just recently came out, there’s also a new method of collecting payments for downloading the distribution.

According to Elementary, it is no coincidence – that the option to simply type “$0” and then click the download button so you could download it for free – is hidden!

“We want users to understand that they’re pretty much cheating the system when they choose not to pay for software.”

Says their blog.

Although this is not the first time Elementary team speaks out about charging users for downloading the distribution (remember this video from last year?), it’s certainly is a step forward in making it so.

Open Source Doesn’t Means Free

It’s true that the pure definition of the term ‘Open Source’ doesn’t necessarily means it’s totally free, though for the most part, both usually go hand in hand.

According to the Open Source Initiative – open source, by definition, must be free for redistribution.

However, with the English language, there’s even greater confusion with regards to the term since the word free may be interpreted in two different ways:

  1. Free as in free speech – the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it, etc…
  2. Free as in free beer – i.e. the software is free of charge.

So which one is implied by the term ‘Open Source’ then?  the answer is the first option where the license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software…

Still, after considering the fact that Elementary wouldn’t even exist without all the free projects it relies upon – for instance Elementary OS relies on the free and open source Linux kernel to function, it does feel kind of questionable to ask for money for something that is in large part completely free.

Not to mention the fact that some of Elementary’s own code got there through contributions and thanks to voluntarily donations.

But Hey, Developers Must Make A Living

This is one of the hard facts of life – in order to exist, you must have resources, to acquire resources, you must have money.

Without money, Elementary might not be able to continue to exist, the more so – evolve. So that puts the developers in a sticky situation.

Though we can’t deny the developers are probably investing much of their time and effort to create this beautifully designed distribution, the question still remains whether the monetizing model they use should involve discouraging users from downloading E for free?

I mean, one thing that sets Elementary apart from other beautifully designed OSs out there, such as Mac OS X for instance, is the fact that Elementary can be acquired for free.

Elementary OS beta 2 FreyaWhich is an obvious advantage over the latter, but what if a user doesn’t know Elementary is also free? the choice would be much harder then.

Furthermore, by putting a tag price over the distribution, the developers are practically saying ‘hey, we are confident of what we sell’ so there’s no need for donations.

And as we all know, the vast majority of open source projects are funded by donations and are prospering thanks to the spirit of contribution and free giving.

Last Thought

So, although we can’t say Elementary has went off the open source tracks per se (since they are still in compliance with the definition), they do seem to walk a different road than most other open source projects do.

Will it be for the better or for the worse – that’s left for time to say. until then, we shall keep an eye open for any new developments.