Why is it hard to make a profit from open-source software?

Ahmad Zaidi
3 min readAug 13, 2021

Open-source software culture could be traced back to the 1980s. The so-called “hackers” challenged the status quo of the software industries by sharing free and open-source software or FOSS. FOSS offers the users a free program with source code that anyone can see. This model means developers potentially did not get any profit from the program sales. The user also could get a clear view of how the program works, which means the user could see what kind of data the program use. When you can see inside the program, the advanced user who understands the programming language could see what kind of data the program has taken.

In my opinion, the most widely used open-source program in history is Android. As a developer, you could use the base model of the OS and shape it as you like. Google as the most prominent Android developer, technically did not make a profit from the OS. They made a profit from the data that was collected from the users. The data is then used to target which kind of advertisement will suit you based on your location, age, gender, search history, and other data only Google and God knows what. So, companies paid Google to post their ads where they made their most enormous profit in this sector. Android functions as a tool, not as a paid service.

It is still a tricky question how an open-source program could make a profit for the developer. However, several models were made, but I believe it will not compete with their biggest rival soon. The first model is OS as the open-source added with paid apps. The models are used in Linux distros such as Ubuntu, where the app store has several paid apps. This model means OS developers did not get profit as the app developer. The second model is the donation model. In this model, the user could donate to the software developer as an appreciation for them. This system is like the old-school version of Twitch. The problem with this model is that it is not a sustainable business model. You cannot feed your developer based on an undetermined amount of donation money. The third model is the Freemium model. In this model, the user could pay for particular “premium” built-in features on the software. Calyx OS has applied the model, where a user paid $600 for the first year to improve their data security. The model still did not guarantee sustainable profit for the developers as it is an optional feature.

At the end of the day, the visionary plan of FOSS could backfire developers by not giving them profit. However, the noblest cause of FOSS might be lies in education of new programmers. It is not a secret that Schools and Universities use open-source programs as their educational material. It is free, and they will not get sued when using it to teach program development. Nevertheless, between open-source programs and profit, they are still two opposite sides of noble cause and profitability.