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Linux Isn't Free -- Deal With It

  May 12, 2004   Operations

Did you know that? Or are you saying, “The fsck Linux isn’t free?” Unfortunately, and if I have to break it to you with a crow-bar I will, Linux is not free.

The problem is that everyone thinks it is. Why is that? Probably because they are used to downloading it, for free, installing it, for free, making small servers and a lab or two of clients, all for free. Everyone says is free, it is Open Source Software after all. Free as in speech versus free as in beer – both are “free,” right? Organizations will even let an employee or two that like Linux have some company time to do their magic to make that lab go, or that web server. Free, right? You’re paying that guy to do that over there anyway. What’s an extra duty?

There starts the problem. Linux is no longer a cute thing to plug the hole created by a few small needs. Its an enterprise class operating system. Its, fsck’ing addictive too! Before you know it Linux will fit the bill so well that you’ll start to roll out lab after lab of clients. You’ll have server farms to handle your web applications. Computational clusters, terrabytes of file storage, network probes, mail servers, and…oh my! What have you done? Your Linux needs have developed into an entire infrastructure.

Hmmm…the ‘I’ word. How many people to you employ that primarily make your Linux go? How many servers did you buy last year that are running Linux? How are you benefiting from another department’s work and investments into Linux? How much are you paying?

Whoa! Paying? That’s right. Servers cost money. That social recluse in the corner cost you a pretty penny too. Or maybe, you are on the side lines not paying any attention to those guys in that other department making Linux go.

You! Yeah, bench warmer! I bet you are still using Linux. I bet you are using the Linux resources provided. I know that you at least have a clue that they are there and you are using them. In fact, Linux may be a major investment of your own. You’ve got hundreds of clients and servers and employees dedicated to Linux. But what about all those upstream resources in your organization? Can you carry on without those? (You just said yes, go back and think damn hard about it.)

The fact is, you can’t start from scratch when all the infrastructure and hard stuff is done for you. You use the resources provided. But Linux is free, right? You don’t have to pay for that stuff you get.

That’s unfair. That’s unfair to you. If you use a resource you need to be good and sure that you are contributing upstream. That’s what Open Source is all about, remember? Money isn’t all that needed, but it is needed. What extra benefits might you obtain if you funded an Opteron for upstream development when development doesn’t have one? What might you get from contributing resources to make mission critical service X highly available and fault tolerant? What benefits might you see for funding that extra server? Dare I mention testing equipment? Machines to build and develop with and different machines to test with?

Linux has a price. I’d wager its a metric boat load cheaper than a non Open Source solution. But you need to consider that. You need to consider where Linux can go at your organization with your extra resources and funding. You need to stop using your organization’s hard work, blood, sweat, and tears without contributing back to them. I don’t care how many hundreds of Linux machines you have. I don’t care if you only have one on Mondays and Thursdays. Its dead wrong to not think of the larger picture. Its dead wrong to assume someone else will pay for all the back-end equipment, testing equipment, and even licenses. Get responsible. Return the value of what you use.

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