Any solution that makes its source materials freely accessible to the general public at no cost can be classified as free/libre/open-source—free because it has no cost, libre because there are no restrictions on how people can use the solution, and open because the solution’s source materials are accessible to all. People use a variety of terms to describe solutions with these qualities, including “free software,” “open source,” “software libre,” etc. We at Sarapis use the term “FLO”.
If FLO solutions are free, how can people make money?
FLO technologies are free of cost—but that doesn’t mean everyone can use FLO tools well. In a FLO economy, money is made by service-providers: experts at a certain technology who are able to generate revenue by deploying a particular solution.
Think about a FLO technology which you probably use every day: language. Language is free (it doesn’t cost anything to use it), libre (there are no restrictions on its use) and open source (its rules and conventions are well documented and publicly available). And yet, writers are frequently paid to deploy language. Why? Because while anyone has access to language technology, not everyone has specialized as a writer or editor in order to become an expert at using the technology.
Likewise, millions of people make money using FLO software tools every year. Indeed, nearly everyone who makes money deploying websites relies on a variety of FLO tools, whether it’s the LAMP stack upon which so many websites run or popular tools like WordPress and Drupal used by tens of thousands of small scale web designers and developers to create tens of millions of websites. There are over 55 million WordPress sites in the world, and many of them were made by people earning a living from developing websites.
Everyone benefits from better FLO solutions—not just those who own the patents. The creators of proprietary technologies earn their money by hoarding their intellectual property (making it scarce) while the creators of FLO technologies earn their money by using their expertise to provide services (making it abundant).
If FLO is such a big deal, why haven’t I ever heard of it before?
While proprietary technology providers like Microsoft, Oracle and Monsanto spend billions of dollars advertising their products, FLO projects rarely advertise at all: FLO projects are generally underfunded, and where resources do exist, they’re directed toward further development of the project. This leads to a situation where the advertising-driven media has no incentive to discuss really exciting and valuable contributions to the technological commons.
Most corporations would prefer the general public remain completely unaware that FLO solutions exist. (Indeed, it’s hard to compete against “free”…)
Meanwhile, many FLO projects are perfectly happy to remain obscure to “consumers” because projects don’t receive any tangible benefit from people who use but don’t contribute back to the project. (That’s where Sarapis comes in…)