John Buswell writes "This morning I received an email from MandrakeSoft, developers of the Linux-Mandrake distribution. One article in this e-newsletter they sent around disturbed me, they were looking for donations. Now, don't get me wrong, I am all for giving back to the community, however, if you look at their site, they are looking for donations for Mandrake specific projects like their installer (DrakX), their support websites and most disturbing of all Quality Assurance. This would be fine except that MandrakeSoft is a company, and these elements they are looking for donations for don't help anyone but their customers and their product. I know they are under a little financial strain, laying off employees and asking others to take pay cuts, but to me, this looks like they are trying to take advantage of the goodwill of the Linux community and their customers who might be a little afraid their Mandrake is going south.
Wouldn't you be outraged if a car company came out and asked for donations to improve safety features or fuel economy? These are company expenses to improve their product, so people buy more and they make more money. It's not something you ask for donations for. While I appreciate the many things Mandrake has done for Linux, I don't think they have the right to ask for money from their customers. If they were taking donations and giving funds to projects like Gnome, KDE, Apache or FSF, that would be fine, but these are ways to fund their products.
I think there are many useful projects that you can donate your money to, that are just developers working in their spare time from home, or non-profit organizations, and donating to those projects will still improve Mandrake's product, because they will definitely incorporate them into their latest releases. What does everyone else think? Is Mandrake justified in asking for donations or are they desperately seeking funds they can't obtain from their investors?"
My opinion is that to many people want cheese with their whine. This attitude trivializes the work that the real programmers do, but also the generosity of many of the major Linux companies who pay programmers to write code, and then pay ISP bills to let people download that code for free.
I don't really know much about Mandrake's financial situation. I doubt that optional donations will provide them a significant source of revenue. But I certainly don't have any problem with them providing the option to send money back to them. My distribution is Debian, and as a non-profit, I can donate money to them without offending John. But if I bought a shrink wrapped copy of Red Hat, I'd be sending a few bucks to them. What's the big deal about giving a few bucks when you download an ISO? And Mandrake has gone so far as giving donators a choice as to where those dollars go. When I give Red Hat my $50 or whatever for that box, do I get to say "Develop GNOME, please"?
Section 3B of the GPL provides for charging the distribution cost for source code, but afaik, every major distribution gives binaries away for free. Hemos and Uriah worked out that it costs OSDN something like 7 cents per ISO download on SourceForge, so I imagine it's similiar for MandrakeSoft. They don't have to provide them. It's a free service. They could charge you 7 cents. They could charge you the distribution costs if you wanted source. They aren't doing either of these things, they are giving you the option to do so, if you want. Which leads me to my main thought about this question: the attitude.
Do you complain over those "Suggested Donation Bins" at the museum? Would you complain if toll booths were optional? Of course neither analogy is perfect, but you get my point. Museums and roads cost money.
The attitude that John presents above scares me. I don't mean any offense to John, he seems like a smart guy, but I've seen so many 31337 h4x0r Linux types who've never contributed a line of code rant on about the evils of various free software companies. Yet I know many guys who've actually contributed huge chunks of code and, well, they just don't care. It's a case where the fanboys have invented some sort of cause that isn't all that important instead of doing something relevant. Those who can, code, those who don't complain.
Of course, I'm just a tool of one of the largest Linux companies, so what do I know. I'm tainted, evil, and part of the same conspiracy designed to keep free software out of everyone's hands by giving it away for free. I also know who killed JFK. But god forbid that hackers eat. And let's all complain about suggested donations too so that the only way to get copies of free software is through gnutella. Hope that 600-meg ISO doesn't abort half way.