How free is open source?

I had a discussion with my boss, Andy, last night about how content has to be paid for somehow, which got me thinking about one of the fundamental aspects of open source.

The open source movement does not provide jobs directly to many people. There is almost always a core of programmers, surrounded by a much larger number of collaborators and supporters.

Whilst the programmers are paid for their job, the collaborators are, for the most part, volunteers, who dedicate time and money to their passion. They do not earn any money directly from their endeavour.

These collaborators are, most of the time, employed by another company, which pays them for doing something else. A journalist, for example, might, in his spare time, choose to translate Open Office help files to Thai.

It is true that open source generates massive revenues through services, but then a very small number of open source applications grab the larger part of these revenues - Linux, Apache, MySQL phpmyadmin and some more. I just can't see money oozing from business plans build around emule, Azurus, Bittorrent, DC++, which are the four most downloaded open source applications.

This post does not provide any answers, but instead serves as a reminder that we live in an interconnected world where everything has a cost - as hidden as it may be. Open source is essentially free provided that you give something somewhere else.