There was an interesting question posted on stack overflow asking ‘Is JPedal free?’ It is a intriguing question so let us unpack it and see what it might mean because it raises a lot of general issues with software.
Free is a word which means very different things to different people. The Open Source community often talks about free as in Air and Free as in Beer (meaning free from limitations and free of any cost to use). So what do we mean by free?
JPedal is developed by IDRsolutions which is a small UK software company. We have a team of full-time developers which is how we can do monthly releases and answer questions on the forums. This is a cost which we fund from sales, support and consultancy of our PDF library.
JPedal is a commercial PDF library, so it is not free (and it cannot realistically be because no income means no money to fund development and support). OEM customers also get access to the source code so they have free access to the product in the sense they are not limited – they can alter it if they want. Commercial users get free support in the sense we charge everyone a yearly fee to cover general support costs.
We also have a cutdown version of the PDF viewer which we release under an LGPL license. This means that you can access the source code and the jar and use them without any payment. You just have to abide by the LGPL license. In this sense it is totally free.
We build it from the full version and remove items (so it gets most bug fixes and some features). So it is free in that sense. Our hope is that it will encourage lots of people to use it, to do interesting things with it and some may become commercial clients. And we like to have a free entry-level version – it appeals to the rebel in our nature
And being a cut-down version of a commercial product means you are likely to see updates – there are several ‘dead’ free Java PDF libraries because they do not generate any revenues to put back into development and support.
But ‘free’ software still has costs. You still have to evaluate the alternatives, you have to work out how to use it and you have to support it and provide much of your own support. Even if a library has no ‘license’ costs, there is a large time cost.
So there is no such thing as free software or do you disagree?
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