Whoa, slow down. Read the title again. Open source isn’t free. But that doesn’t even sound right! Isn’t the inherent nature of the term open source meant to imply a freely distributable source?
According to Wikipedia, open source is defined as follows:
In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via free license to a product’s design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone.
That certainly seems to imply that open source is free. So why would I suggest that it isn’t? I’d like to offer two counter points to the idea that open source is a completely free model.
Open Source Costs Time
I have no doubt everyone has heard the age old advice:
“Time is money.”
If we keep that principle in mind then obviously spending time on something equates to a cost. Open source will absolutely take time. If you’re the originator you will find yourself spending hundreds of hours (thousands even) improving, maintaining, managing the open source software you are distributing. That’s expensive. If you are merely a consumer of an open source product you will undoubtedly find ways you’ll need to customize the software to meet your needs. (That’s one of the reasons you probably chose open source in the beginning).
The ability to customize and modify the source code is an attractive perk of using open source, but beware this alluring benefit also comes with a significant opportunity to become a major time sink.
Takeaway: Be sure to consider the time you will spend if you select an open source model.
Open Source Costs Energy
The second point might not seem so expensive to you. Open source will cost you energy. Energy in the form of learning new software, learning new code, learning a new community. The energy expense is closely tied to the time expense. You’ll spend time AND energy working with open source. Obviously you’ll spend both of these with other models as well, but when the opportunity exists to “tinker” in the source code, the design, or the blueprint of the product the results will be a much greater expenditure of time and energy.
Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This applies to more than just Speedo swimsuits. Be thoughtful as you embark on an open source model. Plan how and where you will spend your time and energy and monitor yourself. Don’t go overboard with customizations and modifications. Or if you find you have to, be sure to budget appropriately.
Takeaway: You will spend more energy learning open source than just how to use a program.
Don’t go into open source blindly believing the “everything is free” philosophy. Open source isn’t free and it can be very expensive. That should not discourage you from using open source. There are a multitude of reasons why open source provides you with a better solution than a closed source model. Use open source but be prepared for the costs involved.