by Swapnil Bhartiya

Elementary OS is trying to create a business model for open source app developers

May 20, 2017
LinuxOpen Source

There is no dearth of Linux based operating systems, you will find dime a dozen. However there are only a few major ones that matter and elementary OS is among them. rn

What makes elementary OS apart from the rest of the crowd is their attention to details and polish. It comes naturally as the team behind elementary OS comes from a graphic design background, so their approach towards desktop Linux is to use a stable base of Ubuntu LTS and create an experience that matches the gloss and polish of macOS.

The Elementary OS team has released a new version of the OS, code-named Loki. In addition to newer kernel (4.8), and improvement in every component of the operating system the most notable feature of the release is AppCenter.

In a previous interview Daniel Fore, the founder of the project, told me about his vision to create a platform for third party application developers where they cannot only reach out to more users through a store, but also monetize from their work.

AppCenter is the realization of that vision. Fore ran a crowdfunding campaign to fund the development of a‘pay what you want’ AppCenter and they crossed their goal of $8,000. The success of the project not only funded the development, it also proved that Linux users are interested in it.

However, AppCenter is not yet another AppStore or walled garden. Fore’s goal is to encourage open source developers by offering a business model for their applications. But it has to be fully open source.

“At the moment AppCenter Dashboard requires that code be hosted on GitHub to publish and our review process relies heavily on being able to read your source code. I don’t think we have any plans to cater to closed source apps, right now,” said Fore.

Fore’s opinion is that AppCenter is extremely user-friendly, as it not only allows users to choose what they want to pay for an app, once an app is purchased user can “download, re-download, backup, and copy apps without having to enter a username and password or license key. It’s your app. You own it,” according to the crowd-funding page.

“We’re putting a hard stop on paywalls. We believe that not being able to afford pricey licensing shouldn’t restrict your access to quality software.  We think that constantly battling against software pirates with DRM is a poor use of resources and represents a misunderstanding of users problems and concerns. We’re not going to fight users here. We think that given an easy and affordable way to support developers, users will do the right thing,” Fore told me in an interview.

Fore is also putting a lot of faith in the flexible pricing model, “We’ve seen a lot of success with a Pay-What-You-Want model and we think that giving the final say to users is proven to work. Yes, some pay less than the asking price, but it’s important to remember that some pay more as well,” said Fore, “We realize that we’re making a big ask of developers, but we’re trying to meet users half-way. Software monetization is a troubled world right now with advertising getting out of control and leading to a poorer overall user experience. We’re trying to turn the ship around and move towards a model that is more fair for everyone and leads to higher quality apps.”

Since AppCenter won’t allow non-free applications, it rules out any possibility of apps like Adobe CC that professionals use for their work. Since it’s pay-what-you-want model, it also rules out many open-source commercial apps that have fixed pricing.

So who is Fore really targeting? He said that instead of Adobe of bigger player he is looking at small, independent developers. “By small, independent developers I’m referring to software startups and other small teams. The iOS app store for example was successful long before major commercial software developers starting submitting their apps to it.”

The iOS App Store base has been successful due to many different reasons, and it was certainly not open source and a flexible pricing model. What elementary OS is trying to do is create a possible revenue stream for those developers who have been offering their open source applications for free.

That’s a noble and good cause in itself.