Open Source is Expensive

How much money would you invest for free software?

This week’s blog post relates to an area we often dismiss with open source software, money. In fact, the most common thought on money and open source is “hey, it’s free and works.” The reality is of course more complicated and I argue that open source is very expensive for the organizations running a project and sometimes they might not even consider all the costs when considering a new open source project.  For this discussion, I am not referring to open source projects run by individuals, but large-scale solutions run by public companies or foundations.For example, the Mozilla Foundation is responsible for the widely used Mozilla browser and other related products (check out a great video about them at https://www.mozilla.org/about/).  In looking at the latest financial statements from Mozilla, their 2009 Net Assets were around $120 million US with operating expenses of $61 million US.  As you can see, even the most non-profit organization with an incredible dedication to not only open source but also the open Internet spent $61 million dollars in one year to give you a “free” browser. The Apache Foundation is another leading provider of open source software from the well-known Apache server to other projects. In looking at the latest financial data available from Apache at http://www.apache.org/foundation/records/990-2006.pdf (the 2007 link was incorrect), they have Net Assets of $243,842 US with expenses of $66,624.  Not nearly as expensive as Mozilla; however the foundation is still spending a good deal of money compared to its Net Assets to give you the free software you want. These two foundations are of course non-profit, and if we looked at corporate expenses for large open source projects – for example, Citrix and Xen.org, we would find large costs as well; however it is harder to get that data from a public company that chooses to not break out the open source expenses. So, the next time you start Firefox or connect to an Apache web server, take a moment to think about the people spending great deals of money for your enterprise quality, free software.

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