How do people make a living out of free software

Published on: February 7, 2022 | Reading Time: 7 min

(This article is taken from a draft created for FSF India article on the same topic)

When people understand that “free software” means the software which respects user’s freedom and not free of cost, the question “how does one earn a living with free software?” comes from the fact that free software ensures the user’s freedom to share exact and modified copies of the software with anyone.

To answer this question arising out of natural curiosity, we have compiled a list of methods on how to make a living out of free software or to sustain the development of free software with examples.

1. Free Software consultancy services which provide solutions based on free software

A business can provide paid consultation services to clients and implement solutions based on free software. DeepRoot GNU/Linux is an example of a successful Free Software consultancy service.

Quote from Abhas who leads Deeproot: “At DeepRoot Linux, we enable organisations of all sizes to use Free Software for their infrastructure deployments. We provide software, services and support so that they can use GNU/Linux and Free Software effectively. Over the past 18 years, we have worked with more than 500 organisations to help them in their endeavour to adopt and run Free Software. We build mail servers and mail server clusters, private clouds, containerisation and automation solutions, computer labs and so much more. We provide support for a variety of free software tools that user’s might want to use and help them implement, scale and secure them.”

2. Customization of Free Software

Free Software businesses can customize their own offering or existing free software for their clients to satisfy their needs. This is usually done in combination with selling free software solutions.

For example, Alphafork Technologies is a business which customizes Free Software to build solutions according to the requirements of clients.

Computing Freedom Collective is another business which provides customized solutions based on Free Software.

3. Offering Free Software powered services

Free Software services can be setup and run with an access fee for using the services.


4. By selling hardware with free software pre-installed.


5. By selling free software

People can charge as much as they wish or can for a copy of free software. If a license does not permit users to make copies and sell them, it is a nonfree license. Free/Swatantra software is a matter of user’s freedom and the following are some examples of distributing free software for a fee:


6. Selling Exceptions to the GNU GPL

Instead of making a software available under dual licenses, a free software can be sold to someone making an exception in case of application of free software license terms. It is sold to the buyer only without any possibility of redistributing the software under that license exception. See Selling Exceptions for more details.

7. Selling Free/Swatantra core with paid addons:

Providing addons for a fee for extra functionality in a free (as in freedom) software (the software itself can be paid or gratis).

8. Subscription based support:

A Free Software business can sell subscriptions for support which ensures clients using the supported free software can rely on that business for support when they need it.


9. Donations and Crowdfunding

10. Free Software Training

Charging money for providing trainings for free software based services.

11. Selling Merchandise

Selling merchandise branded with free software logos such as clothes, accessories, mugs, pens etc. can be helpful in sustaining free software development and in paying developers.

12. Content creation around Free Sofware


13. By getting paid to develop free software.

You can watch this video for more details where people earning a living from Free Software shre their experiences. This was a discussion session organized as a part of Free Software Camp 2020.

FSF maintains a directory of people offering their free software services for hire.

A lot of free software developers all over the world are paid for their work, others volunteer to develop free software in their free time. We consider it as developer’s obligation to release the software under a free license.

A lot of free software projects are developed by volunteers in which non-technical people are also involved in crowdfunding, designing posters, campaigning by writing articles, translation into local languages etc. Free Software community needs everyone to get involved to create a free society. You can contribute to free software by volunteering for FSCI. You can contact us for guidance on how you can make a living with free software.

Further Reading: