New Post: How Purism Funds Free Software

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Free software isn’t free. Free software geeks love to correct people by saying that the “free” in “free software” refers to freedom ( libre ), not cost ( gratis ). We even join in this word play at Purism by naming our laptops Librem– a combination of the words libre (freedom) and librum (book). Whether free software is written as a labor of love in someone’s free time or written as part of someone’s full-time job, even if the developer doesn’t charge for the software the cost to make it is still there. In this post I’ll talk about why Purism funds free software through hardware, and why we didn’t take some of the other popular approaches.

Working for Tips

It took me a couple of years to remodel my bathroom, because I only worked on it on weekends. When you already have a full-time job, you don’t necessarily want to work every weekend too, so there were plenty of weekends where I did other things. Yet I probably could have completed that multi-year project in a couple of weeks if I could have worked on it full time.

A lot of great software has been written in a developer’s free time, and arguably most free software is written this way. Yet if we want free software to progress as quickly as possible (and we do), we must enable more people to pursue their labor of love full-time instead of just on the weekends. That means paying people full-time salaries for their work . Giving tips, patronages, or a percentage of sales is all well-meaning and I’m sure developers appreciate it, but few developers get enough from that route to quit their day jobs.

So how do you fund free software in a sustainable way?

Read the rest of the article here:


I’m strongly considering ordering n more Librem 5 before the end of the month (price bump).
(Receiving my address confirmation mail today surely brought me closer to do so).
In a year, I might use them, sell them, or trade for a coupon instead of have 'em delivered.

Hit like if you consider to do likewise :wink:


Well I will go one step further to help identify a new trend, Freebooks. Your products fall right in line with the concept and definition positioned by the community. Freebooks are a new thing. IDK any other company disallowing Intel ME as a standard across their product line.

@Kyle_Rankin: There is still the old price displayed, isn’t it?

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Thanks for letting me know about that one!

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That is a very persuasive argument for me, leading me to re-evaluate my decision on the Librem 14.

I saw this post when it was released, but didn’t have time to comment on it then. This is my first post in the community - I’m not a business minded person, but I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while.

I still think there has to be room to improve this business model. Surely only making money from hardware sales means that there is no motivation for extending the lifetime of the hardware, because the only way to make more money is to get consumers to purchase the next lot of hardware, instead of maintaining what they have. I know that Purism is intending to provide extra years of support on top of what current phone providers do, but in the end won’t it be a struggle to finance software development for years into the future, with declining sales? The hardware turnover caused by the need for increasing sales also creates environmental problems.

I wonder if Purism would be better off selling hardware + X years software support, with the idea that the support costs could be renewed in the future. The current phone price + support would be the same price as just the hardware now, but would then allow people to decide to continue to fund support if they are still using the device when that expires. There might also be an option to provide support-only packages for other devices, such as the Pinephone, that are currently using Purism’s software already.

Just some (probably useless) thoughts from someone with a Pinephone still waiting for their L5.


I read that blog. Wow, Purism is unbelievable <bad word here>!!

Let me explain. In my case, as a GNU/Linux user I’ve postponed buying a smartphone for a long time, until one day in 2018 I found out and ordered a Librem 5. I was very enthusiastic because it looked like, I could finally run on a phone the software I was already using on other devices. Yes, I only needed the hardware, of course with Linux support and drivers for it’s components, so I could run whatever Linux application I want on it, right?

Well, years later, I still haven’t received the Linux supported hardware that I paid for! Instead they used the money for what???

“Indeed, a large part of the money we’ve raised in our crowdfunding campaigns, in particular for the Librem 5, has gone to advance areas like making the desktop adaptive for everyone.”

Sure, they are nice to have stuff! But your obligation was to deliver the HARDWARE! You are soooooo late with that! Instead of spending the money on producing the hardware and doing everything to increase production capacity and deliver the phones which were fully paid years ago, you are concern with producing fancy GUIs and apps, because you "need to compete with proprietary alternatives". You are paying software developers to create software that I don’t need, instead of making the phones that we paid for.

But then, you realize that you don’t make enough money from selling devices – as you don’t have the capacity to produce them because you spent money and resources on software – so you decided to double the price of the hardware and justify it by your continuous noble goal of funding free software. But now, at double the price, your customers are fewer and fewer, and so your devices on which you hoped to run your fancy software.

That’s right. And the software that comes with it. I think you weren’t there when the OpenMoko was made fun of for not being able to make calls, were you? Do you think no one would bat an eye if we sent out dead hardware to users?

Of course you won’t need some things. But we’re not making the phone just for you.

I regret not being able to find the crowdfunding page on the internet archive – I’m pretty sure we mentioned Linux and convergence somewhere in there.


It should have been inferred, anyway. It’s the same reason new GPUs, newCPUs, new (enter literally any other hardware device) that’s brand new won’t run on Linux until software is written to make it run.

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Saying it’s a choice between funding hardware or software is a false dichotomy. As the article states, in addition to paying for the hardware, we use proceeds from selling that hardware to fund free software. It’s not either/or, it is both, and that is the point.

I know that there are other approaches out there that take the model of “just ship the hardware and let the community create the software” but I don’t think that model actually helps the movement to have free software on a mobile platform either in the short term or long term. Like the article states, tips and working on the weekends aren’t enough if you want usable software on mobile in a reasonable time frame. We’ve had to pay developers to work full time on this software for many years to get it to the state it’s in today.

If you subtract all of our software efforts between when the Librem 5 was announced and now, you may have the option of a mobile-only OS that runs ports of Linux software you use on your desktop, but it would still be largely incompatible with your Linux desktop. If that’s what you want, you could already just use one of the free software forks of Android with FDroid. I very strongly doubt in a world where we didn’t invest in this software development, that you’d have a real convergent OS where the same application runs on both mobile and desktop form-factors. Building this convergent OS was a LOT of work, work that the community up to the point we announced the Librem 5, was not really working on all that much–most of the focus was on creating mobile-only Linux-backed OSes to load onto Android phones and free software forks of Android.

Convergence is incredibly important if you care at all about competing with Android and iOS. It is already a pain for developers to have to account for Linux, Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS and maintain forks of their software for each platform. Asking them to port their application to a new mobile-only Linux OS isn’t going to be that appealing. However, asking them to make sure the existing Linux version of their application behaves well when on a small screen isn’t asking nearly as much, especially when we’ve provided them the tools to make it easy.

While I can understand the frustration in waiting to get a Librem 5 you ordered, the various delays wouldn’t have been solved with money. The cost of the Librem 5 is going up to account for the extra cost for the hardware components today compared to when we first launched, not the extra cost of software development.



Salient excerpt:
…we expect to use the funds from this preorder campaign to fabricate the development units, manufacture the phone, port/develop the OS, and develop the communication applications. This is a lot of work to accomplish, and we are both allotting enough time to get this all done, and putting a call out for quality, eager, free software developers to add to our phone development team (see our jobs page for more information).

Yes, delays are … well, delays. But between them you do work. What Purism does is <500 phones/month. Why that low if not the lack of money? Because Todd Weaver was pretty sure that Purism can do 50000 phones in 3 months. That was pre-pandemic so don’t invoke that.
ADDED: And Purism already took the many for thousands of orders so there were no uncertainties regarding necessary production.

Please don’t hijack this thread into another “where’s my phone” post. We already have plenty of “why were there delays” retrospective posts. Please stick to the topic (as you somewhat did in your first post) of how Purism funds free software.

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Please cite this.

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If so, then do so in another thread. We need to keep this thread on topic.

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Touche’, my bad.

Wow the Chatty aPP Purism Programmer (Mohammed Sadiq) it is Free Software Developer.