Supporting Free Software – The “M” Word

And by that I mean Money.

As I mentioned previously, when we talk about Free Software, the emphasis ought to be on freedom, not on price. The fact that so much Free Software is also free of purchase is great. It offers people who cannot afford expensive proprietary software a chance to use comparable software that can improve their lives, their businesses, and their societies. But at the same time it does require some money to produce the software. While there are cases where the financial support comes from interested companies who may assign their staff as developers or provide server space (and companies like Red Hat and IBM provide a lot of support this way), there are also a lot of smaller projects that need help. And some activities that are important are not supported by corporations at all, but instead must rely on individuals to provide this support. I would never suggest you stop feeding your kids to do this, but the reality is that most users of Free Software in the US and Europe (for example) could easily afford to make some contributions. And I want to suggest some ways you can do this.

To begin with, most of the Free Software projects have a Web page. And if you go to the Web page you will probably see something like a PayPal button to make a donation. My rule of thumb is that is I use the software a lot I ought to support it financially. I have always felt this way, going back to the days of “shareware”. Shareware used to be “try before you buy” software produced generally by independent developers who let you use the software free of charge but asked you to register and pay for it if you liked it. While undoubtedly some number of people simply used the software and ignored the obligation to pay for it, it was clear to me (and many others) that if the developers could not get paid for their trouble they would stop making useful software. Now that I am firmly in the Free Software camp, I feel the same way: if we don’t make sure our developers are supported, they will go do other things. They also need to eat, they also have families, they need to pay their bills.

I will give a few examples from my own experience just to illustrate how easy it is to do this if you are sensitive to the issue. I realize this may look like I am trying to make myself look good, but I don’t think I am any better than anyone else, I just don’t have anyone else’s examples handy right now. The first example is a project called Miro, which produces software to download videos from the Internet and play them. I subscribe to a lot of video podcasts, as well as a few YouTube channels, and this is how I do it. And I use this software every day, so it is a good candidate for support. About a year ago they were looking to sign up people in a fund-raising drive called “Adopt a line of code”, for which you would pay $4 per month through PayPal. It looked good to me, so I signed up. After all, I get far more than $4 per month of benefit from this software and have come to rely on it every day.

I also am a KDE user on all of my computers. A few months back I saw a post from one of the developers, Sebastian Trueg, that he needed to raise money to support himself so he could continue his work on KDE. Unlike some of the developers, he had no corporate paycheck supporting his KDE work. Well, I use KDE every day, I rely on it, and I clicked the PayPal button for a donation (My memory is gave him $10, not a huge amount, but I hope that among all of the KDE users he raised enough money to keep working.)

My particular distro of choice is Kubuntu, and again I use it every day. I don’t think Canonical really needs my donations to keep going, but they base their work on Debian, so when I saw a fundraising drive to write and publish the Debian System Administrator’s Handbook, I pledged a small amount (again, I think it was $10 or so. For me, $10 is the amount I can casually donate without worrying about paying my own bills.)

Another form of support you can give is by joining some of the Non-Profit charitable organizations that support Free Software. There are a number of them, but I will note a few. First is the Free Software Foundation. This was set up by Richard Stallman, and is the one organization on my list that is directly focused on defending our software freedoms. This is the group that promotes the GPL license. Because my own freedom is very important to me, I am proud to say that I am a member. This is a little more expensive than my donations above, at $10 per month, but I’m glad to do it. Another group that you can support through a membership is The Linux Foundation. This group pays the salary of Linus Torvalds (and just announced that they are supporting Greg Kroah-Hartman), so if the Linux Kernel is your thing this would be a good thing to join. Individual memberships are $99 per year. Next I want to mention the Linux Fund. They raise money through what are called “Affinity Cards”, i.e. credit cards with a logo of your favorite group. you many have seen these before to support sports teams or universities, but you can support Free Software. And despite that name “Linux Fund” they also support BSD, which is Free Software by any definition. All you need to do is sign up for a credit card through them and a small part of your purchases goes to support the project you choose.

The two last ones I would like to mention are umbrella support organizations. The first one is the Software Freedom Conservancy. This is a non-profit group headed by Bradley Kuhn that helps a lot of projects. Essentially, they provide the legal structure to enable smaller projects to raise money while the SFC handles the administrative overhead. Bradley was formerly at the Free Software Foundation, and is still the most active person in defending the GPL, so this is a name you may well have heard before. But at SFC he is directly helping all of these projects. Current member projects include Amarok, Git, Samba, and Wine. I’m guessing at least a few of those projects produce software you use, so you can help them out with a donation. The other one I would like to mention is Software in the Public Interest, which has Bdale Garbee as president. As you might expect from that connection, the Debian project is one of the FOSS projects supported, but Arch linux, Drupal, and LibreOffice are among the others they support. Again, by contributing to a group like this you can give valuable support to Free Software.

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