Home » Computing » Linux » Paying for Free Software

Paying for Free Software

Who to pay money to when you’ve finally gotten round to the free software world?

Back when I was a student, and then when I was not working a terribly well-paid job, I couldn’t afford to fork over any significant amount of cash – so to those of you who are still in that situation, fret not the question!

But I now have a salary with which I can afford to financially support some (but not all) of the projects I have been using for free (gratis) for so long. I’d like them to stay free, both gratis and libere, and for that, some funding will likely not go unwelcome.

So how much to set aside? How often to pay in? And to whom?

I was going to post this to Ask Slashdot, but the question has already been answered there – though not particularly to my satisfaction.

The following are how I am sorting the projects in my mind, and will probably pick one from each every 3 months or so to give some of my budget to.

1) Bedrock projects

Firstly I’d like to mention what I think are the core strongholds of Free and Open Source Software – and information as well.

  • Linux Foundation ($99 annual subscription) – employs the main developers who lead kernel development which every GNU/Linux distro benefits from.
  • GNU’s Free Software Foundation ($120 annual subscription) – drives the Free Software movement, provides the main set of tools that allow Linux to be built and GNU/Linux distros to run


  • Electronic Frontier Foundation – provides legal advice and fighting clout, to safeguard freedom on the internet, for individuals.
  • Wikipedia – the place we all go for information as a first stop. It’s not an authority on subjects, but more often than not, it hosts more accurate and peer-reviewed information than any other repository.

2) Flagship projects

  • GNOME, KDE and MATE all have donation pages. It is thanks to these projects that Linux sits proudly on generalist users’ desktops, and we’d do well to support at least one – apart from the browser, it’s the main type of interface we nearly all see. Give your favorite Desktop Environment some love!
  • General use apps like LibreOffice, Mozilla, Opera, Wine, GStreamer, VLC, DuckDuckGo could all benefit from funding – we all use them gratis, those of us who can should chip in a little…
  • Specialised projects like Eclipse IDE, The GIMP, Ardour, FreeCAD, R, Xen especially need support from their users who can afford it: a smaller user base and a more specialized knowledge required from the developer side means a greater danger of the project collapsing without proper support
  • Apache Software Foundation – powers much of the web as we know it today, and makes headway in innovating and continuing to keep the web powered by Free Software. If you host on the web, or run servers inside your network, consider donating in this direction too.
  • MariaDB and PostgreSQL – primary database servers around the world. MySQL is a prime example of why we need to continue to support projects to keep them libere.

3) Your chosen distro

Once you’ve shopped around distros and made your pick, donate back to the one(s) you settled with. Just once…. or once every so often.

Consider also donating directly to the base parent distro of your current distro, if not already corporate-backed: Debian, Arch Linux, Slackware, Gentoo. All these are donation-funded, and constitute the foundation of your preferred distro.

If we all paid $10 for the distro we choose to stick with long term (or $5 for the base, $5 for the variant) every 6 months or so, both projects would be financially healthier than ever!

4) Encourage your company and clients to do business with one of the key enterprise distro publishers

Mostly, these companies make their money through providing managed services and consultancy, and dedicated support. The business entities can then fund other projects, some of which are testing grounds for their for-sale versions, and still provided to all for no money.

  • RedHat, USA – directly funds the JBoss AS, and Fedora projects, and supports the CentOS project. RedHat provides consultancy and management services for server deployments.
  • Canonical Ltd, UK – creators of Ubuntu, directly supports the derivatives Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu etc, maintains LaunchPad.net for hosting projects and PPAs that the plethora Ubuntu derivatives rely on. They host managed services and enterprise deployment support as their most notable business operations.
  • Novell, Germany – OpenSuSE is their community version with SuSE Linux Enterprise receiving dedicated support. A small number of distros like Petite OS and Linux MangOeS fork off of this one, but many seem to juts enjoy openSuSE itself.
  • Mandriva SA, France – publishes business server and monitoring solutions around their Mandriva suite, and makes money in the usual consultancy ways. Not many distros branch off of this one, but it is

5) What about the other projects?

Programming languages (Python, Ruby, etc), libraries (Qt, WxWidgets), tools (OpenSSH, Cygwin), Gnash, and all that?

You’ll have to decide what you personally use a lot and see if you can spare the pennies. But as one famous supermarket says: every little helps.

As a rule of thumb, if it features prominently in your regular computer use, you should consider donating. If there are smaller/minor libraries that you think could do with some love, maybe keep a list of all of them and rotate your monthly donation around them.

Posted in Linux

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.