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Can You Make Money By Developing Free Software?

December 12, 2014

Free software has recently peaked in popularity, taking on several different guises, from free apps and community led open source software to large well resourced software companies opening up software to the general public for use and development. The free software community has been recognised as a significant movement and a big part of the software industry. But can individual software developers or software companies make money from free software?

At first glance it might seem pretty bad business to give your software away for free but some companies have been doing it for years, so there must be something in it, right? As recently demonstrated by 3d printer manufacturers ‘Makerbot’ open source software provided a great way for them to quickly advance and improve the software that their 3d printers were using.

Professional bespoke software packages can be extremely expensive to initially purchase and may require recurring payments for continued upgrades and support. So instead of this some large organisations instead source a free, open source version of software that will serve the same purpose and then hire software developers to work on the software for them. This has several advantages for the organization – they are saving money and will have software that is more tailored and more frequently updated to suit their needs.

Working in this way organisations have even been known to then go on to license the software they have created and make it available for sale. So while this is profitable for the organisations it is obviously also profitable for the individuals software developers who have paid employment working on essentially free software.

Many software developers wishing to work on free software in a paid capacity also have an opportunity not available in most lines or work. Due to the open access public development of the software, developers have the opportunity to work on the software as they please fixing bugs, creating plugins or general advancement of the software, while this gives them great experience the main development teams from the software organisations often take on developers who have shown promise – This is exactly how Makerbot recruited many of their initial software development team. Wannabe software developers can effectively create a job for themselves if they prove their worth.

One of the bonuses of developing free software, especially with open source is the level of community interest that it is possible to grow, this interest can turn into a massive following that if managed correctly can turn into an extremely large and profitable customer base.

Other software that falls into the realms of free software is free apps. Free apps that become popular have the ability to make the app developers a huge return; this return may be seen through advertising or in game purchases. For example video game company Supercell develop 3 free to download and free to play games popularly known as freemium games, these games offer in app purchases that in 2013 saw Supercell generate a revenue of $2.4 million per day. Obviously developing a freemium app or game can be a huge gamble as if it doesn’t become popular the costs of development are likely to leave a significant financial dent.


written by David Clee

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