Ardour provides a good model for profiting off of FOSS

Screenshot of Ardour 6.7 with Recorder, Editor and Mixer – Derwok on MediaWiki Licensed as CC-1

Ardour is a great DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that is cross-platform and Free (and Open Source) Software (FOSS). However, it is a good case study for how Free (as in libre) software isn’t necessarily free (gratis) software. Upon clicking the “Download” link on Ardour’s homepage, the user will see two options:

The user can either download a “Ready-to-Run Program” or download the source code for Ardour and build it him/herself. “Well,” thinks the average user, “I don’t want to spend 3 hours building Ardour. I have music to make!” Hence, the decision to click “Ready-to-Run Program.” But hold on… After clicking that and then choosing the OS (operating system), the user is greeted with three more choices:

You’re seeing that correctly! You can either download a Free Demo or pay to get the full featured version. “B-but…” says the now dumbfounded user, “I thought this was free software!” It IS! Many don’t realize that software licensed under GPL is allowed legally and morally to be sold! The Free Software Foundation (FSF) themselves give the green light to selling software! The only requirement under the GPL is that the source code is made available and included with the software itself. We see in the first screenshot above that Ardour does exactly that. “Do you want the source code? Here you go! Do you want a pre-compiled binary? Pay at least a dollar!”

Making the source code available, of course, allows those with the know-how to contribute to the code. The book Rebel Code states that the whole GNU/Linux movement propelled at lightning speed in the 90s due to a small group of people contributing bug reports and fixes to the source code of FOSS. They were also able to add features and suggest changes to the software in ways that would benefit them individually or the usergroup collectively. And if their vision didn’t align with that of the developers, they could always fork the project, as long as the license terms were respected!

Now, to be clear, Ardour binaries are available in many distros’ package repos. Anybody could easily install a variant of Ubuntu and then type

$ sudo apt-get install ardour

into a terminal and have Ardour up and running within minutes. So, how does Ardour encourage people to download from their site? Well, the new features, of course. Ardour binaries are effectively guaranteed to run on every major Linux distro (and Windows and MacOS) and Ardour pushes out fixes and new features faster than Ubuntu’s developers do. The added fees that they get from selling the software practically guarantees that.

So, in the end, Ardour benefits greatly because those who have a huge stake in making sure their copy of Ardour runs without error (recording engineers, musicians, voice actors, etc.) would probably much rather pay Ardour for a guaranteed working binary than risk getting a buggy binary from Ubuntu or the Arch repos. Those with less than $45 to spare can of course either subscribe for at least $1/month or take a chance with their distro’s packages (or perhaps with a package on Flathub).

Either way, it’s a win-win. The FOSS community gets a well-documented and well-developed powerhouse of a DAW to study, modify, and enjoy; Ardour gets money from binary buyers and development support from source code downloaders.

So, if I were to do a big FOSS project and needed the cash, I’d follow Ardour’s funding model.

How about you?

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