A Free Software Business is where you combine respect for your users’ freedom with your choice of building a business.
There is no conflict between the freedom you provide (as a part of your business dealings and software + hardware offerings) and your ability to build a sustainable business based on these offerings.
This website provides a starting point and growing resource on what a Free Software Business (FSB) is and how to get started with it. It also aims to address common questions regarding how Free Software and Business can be combined and dispels some of myths surrounding these concepts. However, it is assumed that you are aware of what Free Software is about and why its important.
What is a Free Software Business?
A Free Software Business (FSB) is a business that respects its users’ freedom. The freedoms that users deserve are unalienable. A FSB does not compromise on these freedoms when it chooses to do business with its users. A FSB is an ethical business that uses software freedom to empower its users, instead.
There is a common myth that it is not possible to build a business if you provide these freedoms to your users and customers. Over the past few decades, there have been examples of hundreds of such businesses which have flourished without compromising on their users’ right to have software freedom.
The reasons your customers will engage with you is that you provide a value to them - irrespective of the fact that the software (or hardware) that is a component of this transaction is FREE.
What makes a Free Software Business different is that it chooses to put its users’ rights first. It build a business because of Free Software, not in spite of it.
What can a Free Software Business do?
A Free Software Business can do anything that a business is permitted to do in your community. You can develop software (and hardware), provide services, sell support, offer hosting and so much more.
Software Freedom is not a constraint - its a power. You can do anything that you want to do in your business. If you believe in Free Software, you will just choose to do it without restricting the freedom of your users and customers (and, even, other businesses) to do the same.
No one can impose how you should run your business, what you should do in it or how you should do it. But if you choose to qualify yourself as a Free Software Business, then your business dealings and practices are a reflection of that.
Can I build Open Source Software?
“Open Source” still misses the point of Free Software. Please consider if you really want to use the term “open source” and if, instead, you want to focus on absorbing, providing and offering software freedom as a business purpose.
Richard Stallman’s essay: Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software
A smaller analysis on the same topic: Why Open Source still misses the point of Free Software
What are the other requirements of a Free Software Business?
There are no requirements. Nothing listed here is a requirement. All of this is, at best, an advice and a recommendation. Nothing more. No one can really require anything from you - that would be highly unfair and disrespectful.
However, can you consider if you believe in free software enough to choose it as a basis for building your business? Can you translate the Free Software philosphy into a set of business practices that reflect your beliefs? Do you want to help your users, customers and members of your (business or technical or social) community understand and appreciate the value of choosing Free Software? It is important to think about such questions.
Meanwhile, here are some recommendations for you to consider:
Privacy-first Data Collection and Storage - Do you collect data from your users or customers? Do your customers entrust you with hosting or storing their data? What can you do to repect the privacy of their data? What sort of protection and committment can you offer to enable them to protect their privacy?
Why does protecting our privacy have to be an after-thought and band-aid? When all of us care about privacy in similar ways, why can’t we build solutions that reflect this value system outright?
File Formats and DRM - What media formats do you use for any content that you provide? Are any of these formats proprietary? Are you the only developer who can operate on these file formats? Do you encrypt the content using DRM technology? Is it possible for you choose free file formats for your data?
This applies to eBooks, music, images, vector drawings, bitmaps, videos, audio files and so on.
Vendor Lock-in - Do you make it simple for your customers to move to other service providers or software? Do you erect barriers to ensure that customers find it difficult or inconvenient to move away from your business? Can you build your offerings in a manner that allow interoperability with others?