12 March 2018

Owt for Nowt and Tuppence Change

/aʊt/ n. (colloq.) something, anything
/naʊt/ n. (colloq.) nothing
/ˈtʌp(ə)ns/ n. (arch.) two pence

As we all know, the ‘FOSS’ in FOSS4G stands for free and open-source software. Open-source advocates often rightly stress that the ‘free’ in FOSS means free as in speech, not free as in beer. These two meanings of free are often made clear by explicitly using the two words libre (free as in speech) and gratis (free as in beer). Open-source advocates often rightly concentrate on libre.

Free beer!
Proost! Skål!

Open-source software is libre because there are no restrictions. You are free to do with it what you want. Use it to make money. It doesn’t do what you need? Change it. The open source of the software makes this possible.

But here’s the thing: free beer is underrated.

People like free beer. It’s beer, and — which is the key point here — it’s free. It’s something for nothing. It’s owt for nowt.

Gratis is what drives uptake of open-source software, not libre: to take two examples from my neck of the woods, Northumberland National Park migrated to QGIS, and Newcastle City Council have done the same. These decisions were driven by saving public money. They were not driven by the fact that QGIS was libre, but because it was gratis. It’s something for nothing. It’s owt for nowt.

As a rule, though — alas! — free beer is not free. The free beer at the FOSS4GUK 2018 party was paid for by our fabulous sponsors, and by our fabulous delegates.

That so much is done without money is astonishing, thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of contributors. But without money, many things would simply be impossible, such as conferences like FOSS4G and, more importantly, the enterprise-grade performance and stability we enjoy in software such as PostGIS, GeoServer, and QGIS.

So, to misquote Sir Bob Geldof, “Give us your FOSSin’ money”:

This money drives quality and professional software. It pays for features via grants, and for professional bugfixing. Give what you can, if you can.

But you don’t have to give anything. You can still get owt for nowt. But if you don’t pay, owt for nowt is all ye get. You don’t get to complain, or to demand, or to expect. Complaints, demands, and expectations are tuppence change. If you want to complain, demand, or expect, pay an open-source geospatial company for support. If you don’t pay, approach issues differently:

If you want owt for nowt, ye divven’ get tuppence change.

Initially given as closing comments after day one of FOSS4GUK 2018