I was really pleased with how my little forum post worked out, so I’m dumping it here as well!
Here is the catch that makes the free software platform so awesome: No one entity owns the whole of an end product like Ubuntu or ever will. (Same with all the individual projects it mirrors). There are contributions from everywhere, including groups that conventional businesses would label competitors. Heck, the sudo program is sponsored by DARPA and the USAF. It gets used by governments around the world.
Suffice it to say, this is completely against the status quo. It takes some getting used to, but it all makes sense in the end.
The ecosystem is largely made up of small businesses and individuals delivering support, advice and code for little chunks of the Linux audience. Indeed, support also equates to releasing a super-stable distro like Red Hat. That really comes down to what one’s priorities are.
Products are often released under the GPL or LGPL license, or a license following the same general philosophies (like MPL, Creative Commons or BSD), all in the same spirit of cooperation. Sometimes because a license demands it, sometimes by mere convention or good manners, but most often because it Actually Makes Sense.
It all adds up into a fine purée.
One key thing is that the free software world is building an environment in which to operate comfortably, and the necessary “making a living” part can grow on top. This is different from the Microsoft and Apple way. They have thick, obtrusive roots within their platforms through which they suck money no matter what people think of their stuff. As long as outside developers are reliant on their platform to operate, Microsoft has no trouble.
Free software provides the only level playing field. It is healthy for competition, since everyone is the competition; there is no gatekeeper to divide the official way from the unofficial. It is infinitely flexible. The platform is a neutral, self-regulating entity that everyone needs to care for to survive.
But why care? It’s all soulless corporations who want to earn a profit, so what’s the problem?
What happened with computer software development was amazing, and we are starting to see it again with content on the web. Computers unlocked an amazing ability for even tiny groups of people to produce fantastic, rich content and then to share it internationally without breaking a sweat. Thick corporations don’t have a chance to grow as they did with heavy manufacturing.
Free software is about cooperating because it makes life easier for the individual people behind it. The bottom line is that free software is not about soulless corporations. Being free and open means that people can be people instead of hiding behind walls of neutrality and secrecy. The fact is people tend to care about people. (Especially those influenced by our society’s ideals – and especially geeks, it seems).
It is a lot like how our environment is a neutral thing that we are all influenced by and we need to pay attention to it because what it does affects us all, whether bank accounts profit from it or not.