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Editor's Note: theKompany's Act of Trust

Elbowed Out by Freeloaders?

  • December 8, 2000
  • By Michael Hall
Last week LinuxPlanet editor Kevin Reichard wrote a hotly debated note on the underlying issues behind the dearth of commercial applications for Linux. At the root of his argument is an understanding shared by a lot of Linux observers: the confusion between free software and free beer, and how little many commercial vendors feel they can trust our community to do the right thing given the opportunity to just take something.

Over the last year, it seems as if this issue has popped up more and more. On LinuxToday, for instance, community interest in Napster was incredibly high. Many would have had it become some sort of misguided rallying cry for the Free Software movement, as if our interest in software freedom somehow translates to an interest in distributing the work of others at no charge, with no hope of remuneration for the person producing work good enough to take up our time and hard drive space but somehow not good enough to pay for.

There's no denying that old-media groups have been flatly reactionary about the new distribution models the Internet allows, or that they've been a little shrill about their impending pauperdom in light of the huge profits they reap. On the other hand, it's hard to credit the disingenuous claims of the least honorable elements on the other side of the issue, who have expected that sly disclaimers about how they surely can't be held responsible for a "few bad apples" will somehow make theft palatable.

For-pay software has suffered in our market, though it's hard to gauge the hard times faced by the likes of ApplixWare when, for instance, Sun has simply given away a commercial-grade office suite, and others prefer to wait for the so-far disappointing koffice. On the other hand, LokiGames is reportedly suffering and they have no competition in our space unless two-version-old Quake releases and PySol count.

It's into this market, where the most boorish are often the loudest, that theKompany is walking with Kivio, their flow-charting tool.

theKompany, as reported on LinuxToday, has handed over the source code to Kivio for use by the KDE project. Yesterday the source was uploaded to the KDE CVS tree, and that project will gain from a high-quality app with at least some useful components from which Free Software in general will benefit.

theKompany, even if it doesn't retain the source, retains its profit motive. While Kivio itself will be free in both senses of the word: as a gratis download and GPL'd software, theKompany plans to make some money selling stencils for the program, ranging in price from as little to $5 to much higher, depending on complexity.

theKompany isn't a one-product house, either. They've got plans in the works for several other apps, including a serious, corporate-grade mail system that will deliver a component GNOME is close to finishing and KDE is progressing on painfully slowly. They have several other projects pending, as well, many of which will be built on this same split model: a GPL'd core component and for-pay plug-ins to get the most out of the software.

I've had the good fortune to talk to Shawn Gordon twice in the last few days, once to get the details on Kivio itself, and once for a more rambling discussion that touched on, among other things, what amounts to a real show of faith on his part. He's given away the razor, and he's not even asking that you don't make razor blades for yourself: he's just asking that you don't carry the ones he makes out of the store in your pocket.

He's also very upfront about how closely he'll be watching the success of this experiment in marketing GPL'd software:

"If people abuse it," he says, "we won't pursue this model again."

Simple enough. We either pay up, or a Linux company is going to be faced with the unhappy prospect of either looking for business elsewhere or simply deciding freeing the code to their software isn't getting them anywhere. Taking without paying, in this case, will not be harming yet another closed-source vendor, but an active participant in the community.

We have little doubt that there's a need for software like Kivio in the Linux community. It's frequently mentioned, and people often talk about how they'd love to see something as good as Visio running on their desktops. Some of the plans theKompany has for stencils for its software are also compelling, and there will surely be a market for them.

The question being posed by theKompany is whether that will be a paying market, and whether the Linux community will bring more than freeloaders to the party.

Once again we're up to the plate.

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