Unlike Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS, Linux isn’t just an operating system that can power your computer. Linux is also an approach to software development: open and freely available to everyone. But when you consider the amount of time and effort put into developing Linux, one question keeps popping up in different organizations. How do we pay for all of this?
You will then be asked this question. Should you be paying for Linux and what options would you consider?
How Linux is currently being paid for
There is technically not a single operating system known as Linux. Linux is a kernel, the part of your system that allows your computer hardware to communicate with what you see on screen.
There is an entire ecosystem of free and open source software that is bundled together to create a functional desktop operating system. When someone or an organization bundles this software and makes it available to others, the end result is called a Linux distribution, or “distro” for short.
When most of us install Linux, we don’t pay anyone. We go to the website of a Linux distribution, download the image file, burn it to a USB stick and use it to replace or supplement the operating system preinstalled on our computer.
It’s difficult to bill people for a Linux distribution or open source software in general. Since anyone will be able to view, edit, and share the code, it means anyone has the freedom to create a free (paid) alternative to the software they want to sell.
But there is still a lot of money in the Linux ecosystem. Here are some of the more common models some projects make money on:
- Donations and sponsorship: Most free software projects accept donations. Quite a few mature projects exist mainly from this form of funding. Some examples include the Linux kernel itself, as well as major desktop environments such as GNOME and KDE.
- Support contracts: The best method for a company that only develops free and open source software is to bill for support contracts. This means that anyone can freely install the operating system, but if they need help or adjustments there is a cost. This approach is generally aimed at corporate customers such as corporations, governments, and schools. Mainly through support contracts, Red Hat became the largest open source company and the first company with annual sales of over $ 1 billion before becoming an IBM subsidiary.
- Pay what you want: This is an approach that became popular with the Humble Indie Bundle, which both attracted large sums of money for developers and had the side effect of bringing various games to Linux. The elementary project adopted this model for both the elementary OS and the apps in the AppCenter. While app developers aren’t exactly swimming in money, the elementary OS team has made enough cash in addition to donations to support a full-time employee or two.
- Charges for non-Linux versions: This is a newer method that has increased with the advent of app stores. Software available for free on Linux sometimes appears in commercial app stores with a price tag, such as paid versions of the Krita digital painting program in the Windows Store, Steam, and Epic Store.
- Hardware provider: Some companies sell computers that have Linux pre-installed and use some of the profits to develop their own distributions and other Linux developers. Examples are System76, Pop! _OS and Purism with PureOS.
Many projects use a combination of these different funding opportunities. But for most Linux home users who install Linux on their own computer, there is no money to change hands unless they choose to donate.
Can you pay for a copy of Linux directly?
Sure, there are people willing to sell you a copy of a Linux distribution. You can find installation disks on eBay, for example. Often times, this is just someone not associated with a project who burns the installation image to a floppy disk for you and then bills you for compensation for the floppy disk and its time.
If you find creating your own installation media intimidating, this is an alternative way to install Linux on your system. Although there is always a certain level of risk and trust in getting software from a third party.
With the advent of cloud computing, there is also the option to pay for a virtual copy of Linux that you can run remotely on someone else’s computer. These are known as virtual cloud desktops, but this essentially pays for an installation of Linux, just not on your own hardware.
There are some Linux distributions that have directly offered paid versions, such as: B. Zorin OS. In such cases, you may get some additional software features pre-installed (which free users can install manually if they wish) or additional support.
You can also purchase versions of Linux that run on the Windows Subsystem for Linux, such as: B. Fedora Remix for WSL.
Perhaps the simplest option is the same as most people who buy copies of Windows and macOS, which is to buy a computer that has Linux preinstalled on it.
What about Linux software?
While the overwhelming majority of programs available for Linux are free and open source, more and more proprietary software is coming to the platform. You can find such software on Steam, Humble Bundle, and the Epic Games Store. Most of them are games. You can also purchase some programs directly from the developers’ websites.
And again there is elementary’s app store, which is to be paid for as you wish, AppCenter.
Should You Pay for Linux?
The answer is not as simple as it seems. Yes, the way most of our societies are currently structured, people have to bring in a wage or some other income in order to make ends meet.
People might want to contribute more to Linux, but financial pressures are forcing them to work for a company that pays them to develop proprietary code instead. The creation of a culture where people pay for software is inviting more and more companies to pay developers to make apps and games for Linux.
On the other hand, so much of what made the Linux ecosystem what it is is the way software is developed and freely shared. Payment expectation can be undermined to the idea that all of this code belongs to everyone equally.
And it could bring more proprietary software into the operating system, creating an environment where most of the users have a free operating system, but the majority of the apps they install are as closed and invasive as the ones on Apple, Google, and the platforms Microsoft.
How Much Should You Pay For Linux?
Your opinion on this question may also reflect how satisfied you are with the way things are. Do you already use mostly free and open source software, most of which was developed exclusively for Linux? Want to switch to Linux but there is a paid proprietary app that you rely on that is not available?
Are you addressing the values of free software or do you just choose Linux because you think it offers the best experience and you want the same apps as on other platforms? How you answer these questions can affect how and how much you are willing to pay.
Whether you are new to Linux or a seasoned user, here are the best Linux software and apps that you should be using today.
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