Commercial Software (was: Re: Nokia spreading FUD?)

Alex Hudson home at
Tue Mar 15 11:25:17 UTC 2011

On Tue, 2011-03-15 at 11:34 +0100, Matthias Kirschner wrote:
> Cannonical is doing buisiness with Ubuntu. So why isn't Ubuntu
> commercial? Same if I use Debian to implement a solution with my company
> for another company (like some of
> do). This solution includes software. If I sell the solution, why
> wouldn't the software be commercial software?

Both these questions are answered by what I said previously:

> > If you say software is commercial if at any point some group of people
> > are poised to make money out of it or services surrounding it, or are
> > paid to contribute to it, then basically all software is commercial,
> > sure. But that seems to me just another version of the One True
> > Scotsman fallacy.

Because basically your argument here is reducing to "if I can find
anyone gaining in some way by virtue of <product>, it is a commercial
product" - and you then have nice malleable boundaries that you can
stretch around anything.

Is Debian non-commercial? No true non-commercial piece of software could
be _sold_ for _money_ !! ... (etc. etc.) 

I'm just not sure I buy that logic, "non-commercial" ends up being the
empty set.

> > For me, software is commercial software if you enter into a transaction
> > to obtain/use it. "Commercial" is the adjective applied to the noun
> > "software", not the developers, the financiers, or anyone else.
> So in your view software can only be commercial if a) you have to pay
> for license fees or b) the software is bundled with hardware for which
> you pay (e.g. Free Software on your mobile, your dsl router, your PC)?

No. I would view Emacs as being commercial being (as was, at least) the
FSF would sell copies of it. I view RHEL has being commercial. They're
both free software.

Look, this whole thing is an attempt to divide software into two
categories which aren't even mutually exclusive. Free vs. non-free _is_
mutually exclusive, so obviously you can't sensibly map from one to the

But that doesn't mean that "commercial" doesn't have a broad meaning
which is understood in similar terms by most people: it does. And
honestly, the argument that "all free software can be commercial!" which
technically true is essentially an attempt to avoid a discussion about
how people can earn money directly from software development without
needing to resort to services/other ancillary offerings. Being honest,
most free software isn't commercial, and authoring free software as a
vocation is extremely difficult to turn into an earning job.



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