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

Bjoern Schiessle schiessle at
Tue Mar 15 11:36:44 UTC 2011

Hi Alex,

On Tue, 15 Mar 2011 09:07:50 +0000 Alex Hudson wrote:

> On Tue, 2011-03-15 at 09:36 +0100, Matthias Kirschner wrote:
> > * Alex Hudson <home at> [2011-03-15 08:02:02 +0000]:
> > > I would struggle to label most free software as commercial on that
> > > basis. RHEL would be an example I suppose, but I wouldn't call
> > > Ubuntu commercial.
> > 
> > How do you argue when you explain that Ubuntu is not commercial?
> To be honest it's never come up. I've never met anyone who thought that
> it was. I don't see that the 10% or whatever polish the Ubuntu community
> add to Debian as making it amazingly different to Debian, and I
> certainly don't see Debian as commercial software.

I think we have to differentiate. Talking about commercial software I see
four kind of commercialization:

- development: software was developed in a commercial environment,
  paid programmers create Free Software during their day-to-day job
- usage: the software is used in a commercial environment. For example a
  software company uses gcc to compile their software or LibreOffice to
  write their letters, etc.
- distribution: software gets sold to customers.
- support: you provide commercial support for your software

Of course you are not forced to do any of this activities commercially
but Free Software is the only license model which always allows you to
provide support, develop, use and distribute the software commercially.
By contrast the proprietary license model knows a lot of exception, for
example students versions often exclude commercial usage.

Therefore I would say that Free Software is the only license model which
allows complete commercialisation and Free Software is the only software
where you can be sure that you are able to leverage the full commercial

Coming back to your statement about Debian I would say that Debian isn't
a commercial distribution, doesn't have a commercial development process
and don't provide commercial support. But the software distributed by
Debian is (can be) commercial. We don't know the development process of
every peace of software distributed by Debian but looking at the license
it could be a commercial process, people are using Debian in commercial
environments, several companies provide commercial support and there
exist commercial distributions of Debian.

best wishes,

Björn Schießle
Free Software Foundation Europe (
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