The title of this post comes from a comment in an article about the roll of FLOSS in the real world, the UK.
Rather than sticking to the UK, about which I know little except for some history and my ancestors escape from the place 150 years ago, consider the world. It is hard to find numbers about one country but M$ files these wonderful summaries about the world…
In a year lately, M$ will take in $20+ billion in licences for that other OS on client machines. An OS manages the resources of a computer or IT system, something GNU/Linux can do for a lot less. The typical PC with that other OS involves about $100 being paid for the licence to use the software with severe restriction. GNU/Linux costs something and that cost is easily recovered in the benefits of using it. Essentially it costs about what it costs to install it, a few minutes of labour. Globally, wages are between $0 and $100 per hour depending on the person, location and kind of work. On average people asked to do installations probably cost only a few dollars per installation if that much. Installations can also be automated so the world who have been buying PCs with that other OS has been wasting $100 or so per PC, for years. This is not getting good value for money or labour, paying for licences that are unnecessary to manage the resources of a PC.
Arguments are trotted out that we must use proprietary software because it’s necessary or better and because it only runs on that other OS we must have that other OS. This is a circular argument because it assumes the statement is true, that we must have proprietary software. If that is not true then we don’t need the proprietary OS upon which proprietary software runs. Nothing prevents the world from creating FLOSS that does whatever we need done in IT. There is no magic in M$ or Oracle or any other company that produces non-FLOSS. The world can do the same or better just because there are more of us and the cream rises to the top. M$ and others don’t make programmers. The world does that and can do without M$ and its partners.
The amount of money spent on non-free software is astounding. Some reports even recount tales where a business or government pays for licences that remain unused. It can’t be any less efficient than that. Because used software does the same whether it is FLOSS or non-free the entire budget of the world spent on licences is a waste. Unfortunately the world’s take of licensing fees for non-free software makes M$’s take for its OS small potatoes. Someone who spends $100 on that other OS will gladly spend $thousands on AutoCad or some other “must-have” applications. The error in assuming that it is the application rather than its function that is “must-have” is huge, probably hundreds of $billions annually.
IDC estimates that by 2014 Software as a Service will constitute 14.5% of global spending on software and will amount to $40 billion annually. That implies that $280 billion per year is spent on software. If you divide that kind of money by the average salary of a programmer, you find an awful lot of jobs are lost by using non-free software. In my world programmers earn $30K to about $100K for fairly routine stuff. Exceptional people and circumstances could give a higher result, such as owning the business. Many people in China earn far less. Suppose the average is taken to be $30K. $280 billion comes to about 9million jobs. By allowing only those programmers who work for purveyors of non-free software to work in the trade we seriously cost the world many paying jobs.
Objections will be raised that this calculation neglects all the “spin-off” jobs by salesmen and IT-people but those guys may well have similar jobs with FLOSS as well. Ubuntu has salesmen. So does Suse and RedHat. Even Debian GNU/Linux has unaffiliated people like me acting as “salesmen”. Much of that is volunteer work but still useful in the world’s economy. Businesses can sell services just as well as they can sell licences. The service is something productive and useful in the world. The licence being over-priced because it’s a “must-have” and single-source does nothing for the world except pay for some salesmen and programmers.
You can account for that in M$’s 10Q. Only about 1/8 of the money paid for M$’s licences goes to pay programmers. So, you have a very inefficient systems where one pays too much for the licences (because software can be produced at much lower cost) and where M$ does not put the money where it will do the most good as far as the end-users are concerned. This is the most expensive way of obtaining software imaginable. If the world needs software it should just hire programmers and make it happen. If the software an organization needs is beyond their means they should share what they produce with others who will do the same and Free Software will happen.
The fatal error in depending on non-free software is that FLOSS will happen just because sufficient numbers of people in the world exist who need the software. It is a completely wasted effort to support a small number of monopolists. In a few cases the number of users of a particular software might be small but in that case a business or organization can just hire programmers anyway. There is no need for some corporation to save us by selling us restrictive licences to use software we can create by other means. It is certainly true that for widely used software like KDE, or Mozilla FireFox or GNOME, GNU/Linux there is certainly nothing to be gained by using non-free software and a lot to be lost: jobs for programmers. M$ does not need all the OS programmers in the world and does not hire them. Should they be unemployed or underemployed? No. They should be working on a diversity of projects so when a real need arises the software or the ability to create it will exist.
“Fatal” is a strong term. No one actually dies using that other OS and non-free software perhaps but who knows the opportunities lost and the unnecessary malware and re-re-reboots that resulted from this crazy monoculture? It is an invention of monopolists, not programmers, not computer scientists, folks who just want to get on with the job of creating, finding, storing and modifying information.