WordPress and Free and Open Source Software

Wordpress-FOSS

WordPress is free to download, distribute, and update. Why do developers give away industry-leading software for free? Also, what are open source and free software licenses?

 

I’ve Paid Hundreds Of Dollars For Other Software Applications For My Business. How Can WordPress Be Free?

It’s hard to believe, but WordPress is free software. The platform used by tens of millions of websites – from small, personal blogs to the websites of Fortune 500 companies – is legally free to download and use. In addition to having no monetary price, WordPress is also “Free Software”, which means it is licensed under the GNU General Public License, a prominent Free Software license. This license includes other freedoms aside from free distribution, including the ability for anyone to use, modify and redistribute a derived project.

Free And Open Source

For many of us who are accustomed to paying hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office, $60 for an XBox video game and even 99 cents for a smartphone app involving birds and pigs, it can be hard to believe that any worthwhile software application could be free. In fact, many believe that a free application downloaded off of the Internet must be illegally posted, or contain hidden viruses or malware. But it is possible to find very high-quality software applications online that are licensed under Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) licenses.

Linux And Mozilla

Linux-based operating systems, or Linux “distros”, are available for free online and can completely replace Windows on a laptop or desktop computer. LibreOffice is a very capable free replacement for Microsoft Office and the Thunderbird email client is an adequate replacement for Microsoft Outlook. Millions of individuals use the Mozilla Firefox web browser to browse the Internet. Finally, if you have a smartphone running the Android mobile operating system, you are using a device that is powered by Linux and other FOSS programs.

Why do developers choose to release applications for free? Are there other opportunities to make money from FOSS, and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these applications?

What IS FOSS, And Should I Trust These Applications?

FOSS projects, or Free and Open-Source Software, are usually created and governed by a community of developers, although sometimes larger projects are directed by an organization or an individual, such as Linux founder Linus Torvalds or WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg. Often these developers volunteer their time, although some who are employed by tech companies are directed to contribute to FOSS projects by their employers.

Different Motivations

What all of these projects have in common is a lack of singular ownership or monetization of their work – there is no corporation that owns the copyright to the project and there are no investors seeking a profitable return on their investment through the sale or licensing of the software. Some FOSS developers are motivated by altruism, while others are motivated to participate as a hobby.

Finally, all of these projects differ from most of their commercial counterparts in one crucial aspect – they are “open source”, which means anyone can download, review and modify the source code of the software application. This is akin to distributing the blueprints to a building, or the schematics of a physical product. Most commercial applications are closed source, and the source code for the applications is confidential.

Selling FOSS Software

Does this mean that there is no way for an individual or a company to profit from a FOSS project? Believe it or not, most FOSS licenses do not restrict an individual or corporation from selling FOSS software; although they are free to do so, most do not charge their customers since they cannot prevent anyone else from distributing the software to their customers for free. Companies like Red Hat and Ubuntu do profit from offering support services for Linux-based operating systems, mainly to businesses. If you are planning on using FOSS applications in a business environment, it may be necessary to pay for support and customizations to the software.

What Are Some Of The Disadvantages Of Using FOSS Applications, Including WordPress?

The main challenge for businesses and individuals who require long-term support for FOSS projects is judging the viability of FOSS projects. Since there is not a for-profit business financing development, further development of the software and bug fixes all rely on volunteer efforts. Also, changes to the software based on feedback and bug reports also rely on volunteers as well. Many FOSS projects are abandoned due to disagreements, apathy and loss of momentum, which in turn leads to a fatal loss of volunteers.

This is a greater risk with smaller, less-popular projects – for instance, Linux is supported by thousands of developers and many corporate sponsors, while WordPress has a thriving community of developers who also produce plugins, widgets and themes for WordPress installations. Also, commercial software applications can also be abandoned based on managerial direction or even the solvency of the company that owns the software. With FOSS projects, even if a current version of the software is abandoned, another group can “fork” the project and use the source code to create a new project and application.

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