[GRASS5] Terminology: Free Software

Roger Miller rgrmill at rt66.com
Tue Oct 9 12:28:56 EDT 2001

On Tue, 9 Oct 2001, Bernhard Reiter wrote:

> Helena,
> thanks for your perspective.
> As I wrote, I am well aware of the implications and the different
> arguments. 
> It is my hope to not repeat the debate in full length here.
> Still weigthing all arguments for myself I find that talking about
> Free Software might be a good idea so I recommend it.

Like Helena, I prefer to continue calling it Open Source software.  If you
don't want to repeat some part of an older debate, then you might want to
stop reading now.

My main problem is that "free" software isn't free, and can -- at least in
the short run -- be more expensive than commercial software.  I find that
its far easier to explain what "open source" means then it is to explain
the high cost of "free" software.

To use free software, a small company like the one I work for can divert
existing hardware, install a low-cost Linux system then install and
configure the "free" software.  The expenditure for hardware and software
is minimal.  Most small companies (and individuals) don't have the
expertise to set up a system and configure Linux or to compile and install
the free software. They have to either hire someone with the expertise or
they have to contract a consultant to do the job. That can get very

Further, the company has to allow someone the time to learn the software
(there aren't many training courses available) and then provide internal
support for the software, or again hire a consultant to provide support.

And even once a company reaches this point, the "spirit" of open-source
development encourages them to support the ongoing development effort
which again, costs the company money through the time and efforts of it's

I have essentially donated all the time it took to set up, maintain and
develop a working GRASS installation.  I did that partly for personal
reasons.  I've never accounted for what it would otherwise have cost my
company.  The cost would at least be in the thousands of dollars.

It's my expectation that those costs are short-term costs, and that in the
long term GRASS+gcc+Linux will prove to be less costly than commercial
alternatives. But short-term costs .vs. long-term savings gets to be a
pretty complicated discussion when you're trying to justify something
that's called "free software."

Roger Miller
Lee Wilson and Associates.

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