I rarely enjoy using free and open-source software. Which I admit seems very counter-intuitive given how often I proselytize FOSS, and how much I attempt to use only FOSS. I’m absolutely convinced that FOSS is the simplest way to write ethical software. So if that is true, how can I say I don’t enjoy using it?

The simplistic answer is the same for why seemingly everyone chooses proprietary software; it’s just easier1. There’s clearly a large quality gap between FOSS and Proprietary code. Maybe it’s prettier, maybe it crashes less, maybe it has that one feature you need. Truth be told, none of these are hard problems, all could be very easy to fix given someone spends the time. And there’s the problem. Free and open-source software, usually meets all meanings for the word free. Only until you consider the time-cost to create that software. Proprietary software isn’t better, it’s only they’re more likely to be able to afford to fund the extra time required.

If FOSS is really better, why isn’t it able to fund the time it takes? Given the choice, shouldn’t everyone choose to write open-source code? Yes, effectively everyone who’s given the choice does choose to write open-source code. The reason proprietary code exists is because the choice most software developers are given is between “write code for a FOSS project,” or have enough food to eat, and a place to live, with enough money to support loved ones. Well, a false choice doesn’t actually count as a choice at all.

Given these options, charging for proprietary software is the only reasonable outcome! Except, no, not really. There’s countless “content creators” that are able to make enough money to live off of. Not just live, but also to be able to create the art that they love. Not just creating art, but they’re able to then share that art openly and freely. Not just enough to live, and create, and share, but also a significant number receive enough money to be able to pay additional people to help them create what they want to create. They’ve built their own niche. This isn’t even a new one either, patronage of the arts is the reason why, most of the best art that exists today exists. Because someone with money decided that other people should be able to enjoy and experience something good too2.

A lot of the people creating the art that I enjoy, are “small”3 creators. Ones who never ask for donations, or support, but still commonly receive them. They’re given donations not because it’s expected, or needed, but because someone wanted to try to demonstrate the value they received from the art they’ve created and shared. And it’s never expected. The response is always shock. They’re unable to see the value their work is able to bring to others.

I know that I’m guilty of this myself. I’m not always going to be able to understand the value my work brings to others. And that’s ok, It’s not for me to decide how much value people get from my work. Despite the idea that logic and creativity are polar opposites, coders are creative people, and writing code is innately a creative endeavor. The parallels continue, similar to the idea it’s not the artists responsibility to tell someone how they should feel about some art, or what it’s supposed to mean. Value means many different things to many different people. It’s why some donate thousands of dollars, while others donate thousands of hours.

Open-source, or perhaps software in general, is just barely starting to come to this understanding itself. The culture around art is that of giving. To many of us writing software, we are still stuck with the malignant idea that asking is shameful, or that donations are somehow unfair. That idea is brain-dead! It is fair, don’t be tricked by it just because it’s common, and where possible try not to allow anyone else to be tricked by it either.

Some of the experts in writing free open-source software have not only proven that you can live the life you want to live by accepting donations, but they’ve gone on to prove that writing free software isn’t a zero-sum game. Which seems to mean that just like it’s impossible to know how much value someone is able to get, it’s also impossible to know how much value even the smallest of donations to free and open-source software can generate.

All of the above is why today, I’m coming to you, gray hat in hand. To tell you I’m now accepting donations on github. Donator caveat4 I’ve done so only so that I can tell you, you should do the same, even if you’re fortunate enough that you don’t need the money, or perhaps especially if you don’t need the money5. If you’ve written any open-source code, take the time to allow your users to donate to you and your projects. You may not need the money, but someone else writing good software that I need in my life might; and they may not be able to ask.

P.s. for anyone reading that happens to have extra money. While I don’t currently need your support, there are thousands of projects that could use your support, and an uncountably large number of users who already benefit from that project who would also share in the generosity of that projects patrons.

  1. It’s also part of why I’m linking to a proprietary video site. :/ ↩︎

  2. The rest of the best art exists because it’s creator had no choice, they simply couldn’t not create it. Which sounds like reason for some of the best the open-source today. ↩︎

  3. Small referring only to size of their audience when compared to artists creating full time. ↩︎

  4. I’m not currently accepting any money. Just donations, anything that’s donated to me I will re-donate to an open-source creator that I feel could use that money better than me. ↩︎

  5. If you’re an expert, or close to it, or not even close and you’ve just written some code once. The young engineers are watching you, and they’ll copy you. If you don’t accept donations, those who want to write code will see that you don’t and will think they shouldn’t too. Help me teach them that earning a living off open-source is both good, and possible! It can only benefit everyone. ↩︎