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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 given the time and effort put into Linux development, one question keeps coming up for different organizations. How do we pay for all of this?
Next you will be asked this question. Should you be paying for Linux and what options would you consider?
How Linux is currently being paid for
Technically, there isn’t 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 a complete ecosystem of free and open source software that comes together to create a functional desktop operating system. When someone or an organization packages 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 hard to bill people directly for Linux distribution or open source software in general. Because the code can be viewed, edited, and redistributed by anyone, everyone has the freedom to create a free alternative (based on cost) to the software they want to sell.
But there is still a lot of money in the Linux ecosystem. Here are some of the most common models that some projects make money on:
- Donations and Sponsorship: Most free software projects accept donations. There are some mature projects that stem 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 most tried and tested method for a company that only develops free and open source software is to settle support contracts. That means anyone can install the operating system freely, but if you need help or customization there is a cost. This approach is generally aimed at business 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 more than $ 1 billion before becoming an IBM subsidiary.
- Pay What You Want: This is an approach that became popular with the Humble Indie Bundle that attracted large sums of money for developers and had the side effect of bringing various games to Linux. The elementary project adopted this model both for the elementary operating system and for the applications in the AppCenter. While app developers aren’t exactly swimming in money, the elementary operating system team has made enough cash along with donations to support a full-time employee or two.
- Non-Linux Version Fees – This is a newer method that has increased with the advent of app stores. Software available for free on Linux is sometimes listed with a price tag in commercial app stores, such as: B. the paid versions of the digital painting program Krita in the Windows Store, Steam and Epic Store.
- Hardware vendors: Some companies sell computers that have Linux preinstalled on them and use some of the proceeds 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 options. 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 CDs on eBay, for example. Often times, it’s just someone not associated with a project who burns the installation image to the hard drive for you and then bills you for the hard drive and your 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 runs remotely on another computer. These are known as virtual desktops in the cloud, but this essentially pays off for a Linux installation, but 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 can preinstall some additional software features (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 one most people buy to buy copies of Windows and macOS, which is to buy a computer that has Linux preinstalled on it.
What about Linux software?
While the vast 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, the 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 also the primary app store for Pay What You wishes, AppCenter.
Should You Pay for Linux?
The answer is not as simple as it seems. Yes, the way most of our societies are structured today, people have to contribute a salary or some other income in order to make ends meet.
People might want to contribute more to Linux, but financial pressures put pressure on them to work for a company that pays them to develop proprietary code. The creation of a culture where people pay for software is inviting more and more companies to pay developers to build applications and games for Linux.
On the flip side, much of what made the Linux ecosystem what it is is the way software is freely developed and shared. Expectation to pay can be undermined by 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 users can have a free operating system, but most of the apps they install are just as closed and invasive of privacy as those of Apple, Google, and Microsoft- Platforms.
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 move to Linux but is there a proprietary paid application that you rely on that is not available?
Are you attracted to the values behind free software or do you just choose Linux because you think it offers the best experience and you want to have the same apps that you would on other platforms? How you answer these questions can determine how and how much you are willing to pay.
Final words: should you pay for support on Linux?
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