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#1 2023-07-02 10:17:08

stefan
Member
Registered: 2013-03-22
Posts: 104

Commercial use of Arch Linux

Hello!

I’ve had a discussion with a colleague recently. He claimed, that “today you have to pay for every Linux if you want to use it commercially”.

I disagree: I think that using distributions like Arch or Debian is entirely free, even in a commercial context.

The quarrel was about what Linux distribution to use. I’m a proponent of Arch which I use privately. My company, however, buys (using money) licenses from a commercial Linux distributor. I guess they do so to get some support, but frankly, I never understood what for.

Before I left Debian for Arch (maybe a decade ago) I was pretty sure that Debian bundled exclusively free software. I do not know the situation for Debian today, and I do know that Arch has less reservations against proprietary software.

The situation might be even more complex: Maybe I have to check the license of every installed packet before using it commercially?

Is there any statement by Arch on this? There are only few occurrences of the words “free” and “license” on the Arch homepage, which may scare away commercial users…

Thanks for feedback!
Stefan

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#2 2023-07-02 13:54:11

Trilby
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Registered: 2011-11-29
Posts: 29,374
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Re: Commercial use of Arch Linux

What do you mean by "use commercially"?  Are you bundling distro software as a product (or part of a product) and selling it?  I.e., are you selling devices that would carry a linux distro?  Or are you just using a linux distro in a business environment, i.e., linux runs on the computers in the office, and / or the P.O.S. systems, and / or automation equipment used to build / package products that you sell?  In any of the latter cases, distro software licenses are not relevant ... at all.

Some companies prefer a paid subscription to a "commercial" linux (or "enterprise linux" like Red Hat) not because of what it allows them to legally do with the software, but rather because they get paid support.  They are "customers" not "users", and they (believe they) can be more demanding of "service" to get bugs fixed or software customized.

So whether you considering paying for service and support or for rights to redistribute are two completely different questions.  Which one are you asking?

In the case of the former, archlinux itself offers no such thing - but I suspect you could find plenty of people willing to support your arch linux machines for a fee (I'd submit my resume!).  If you are looking to sell products with arch linux installed on it then arch itself is only minimally relevant*: you'd need to ensure you comply with the licenses of each individual package that is included.  Somehow Steam managed this with SteamOS (though not without some controversy and ambiguous legal hurdles). 

*The only way arch itself is really relevant here is in the trademarked branding including (but not limited to) the arch logo which would require permission to use - but this is under brand trademark regulation not software licensing.

Also note that you have a bit of confusion about the word "free" as used in open source software.  When it comes to use in a comercial context, more "free" (sensu open source) is less free for use.  Just for using in a commercial setting and not redistributing, this isn't really relevant.  But if you were redistributing software bundled in a comercial product, then the distros marketed as "more free" or "libre" would actually present the biggest challenges.  Freely-available proprietary blobs cant / dont carry any copy-left restrictions, "permissively" licensed content also does not, but "libre" software - by definition - would prevent any redistribution for commercial purposes.

Last edited by Trilby (2023-07-02 14:06:29)


"UNIX is simple and coherent..." - Dennis Ritchie, "GNU's Not UNIX" -  Richard Stallman

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#3 2023-07-02 14:27:38

ewaller
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From: Pasadena, CA
Registered: 2009-07-13
Posts: 19,693

Re: Commercial use of Arch Linux

Your colleague is misinformed.  No doubt this is the cause of the confusion: https://www.itpro.com/software/open-sou … businesses

Red Hat and Centos are hardly 'every' Linux distribution.   Of course at $DAYJOB, I tried very hard to talk a customer out of Centos.  This reaffirms my life long assertion that where I a woman I would be named Casandra.
On the other hand, if we are talking FIPS 140-2, that is another kettle of fish.


Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature -- Michael Faraday
Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine. -- Alan Turing
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#4 2023-07-02 15:56:47

seth
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Registered: 2012-09-03
Posts: 48,833

Re: Commercial use of Arch Linux

I think his question is whether the repos (we'll exclude that AUR because I'd assume "yes") can include any package that can restrict the usage of the provided software to a private context (whereas the professional use of the software would require to purchase a special, usually not beer-free, license)

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#5 2023-07-02 16:24:20

stefan
Member
Registered: 2013-03-22
Posts: 104

Re: Commercial use of Arch Linux

Hi, thanks for your replies!

ewaller wrote:

Your colleague is misinformed.

I was hoping so!

Trilby wrote:

What do you mean by “use commercially”? Are you bundling distro software as a product (or part of a product) and selling it? I.e., are you selling devices that would carry a linux distro? Or are you just using a linux distro in a business environment, i.e., linux runs on the computers in the office, and / or the P.O.S. systems,

Obviously I don’t want to tell exactly what we’re doing. Not because it would be secret, but rather because I don’t want to expose my employer without checking with them first.

We are using Linux to run some proprietary software, which is used to operate systems on bahalf of our customers. This is a rather industrial context, there are technical norms describing some aspects of the system, but the choice of the Linux distribution is, AFAICT, an implementation detail we may decide. Provided it is capable to run the software we need to fulfill our obligations, and I see no reason why it should not.

Trilby wrote:

they (believe they) can be more demanding

I do like how you’ve phrased that smile

Trilby wrote:

So whether you considering paying for service and support or for rights to redistribute are two completely different questions. Which one are you asking?

Well, we do have a few administrators quite capable wrt. Linux. So the only thing I can imagine they’d need support for is where the distribution’s specifics come in — the package management, the system configuration GUI (don’t ask me!), and some such. Customers would not ask us questions that we could forward to the commercial Linux support, as this is a totally different level. They probably neither know nor care how we run things (implementation detail).

But frankly, if you have a Wiki, Forum and Community like Arch Linux does, than that’s all you need! And what I really appreciate about Arch Linux is, that the layer this distribution puts on top the basic tools is (feels) very thin. This is good! It does not hook me on a GUI that estranges (or alienates?) me from the underlying concepts, and I can also apply documentation from other sources.

Sorry, I was deviating. We also do not redistribute anything, we just use it to run our software.

So “commercial” means: Earning money by developing and maintaining proprietary systems installed on our hardware, using Arch Linux as OS.

Trilby wrote:

When it comes to use in a comercial context, more “free” (sensu open source) is less free for use.

Yes, I’m well aware of the different shades of “free”, but thanks for pointing it out. I did not mention it in my opening post, because I did not want to make things more complicated. As far as I know, we don’t even do anything that would relate to the specific features of the GNU Affero license. So it’s really just about which distribution should provide the OS between our hardware and our proprietary software.

seth wrote:

his question is whether the repos can include any package that can restrict the usage of the provided software to a private context

This was not what I’ve had in mind when writing my original question. But obviously it is an important aspect.

So my working assumption would be:

  1. Arch Linux (this is intentionally vague: Who is Arch Linux?) does not care about commercial use of its distribution as outlined above.

  2. For every packet we install, check its `LICENSE` whether it conflicts with our intended use.

Is there any statement by Arch Linux about the kind and level of “freeness” of the packages in its repositories?  Because: A real benefit I can imagine a commercial distribution could offer (I would not know if they did) would be to guarantee that I can use every bundled software the way I intend to. This probably has to be specified in a contract, and involves contract lawyers… *shudder*

Cheers
Stefan

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#6 2023-07-02 18:32:34

Trilby
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Registered: 2011-11-29
Posts: 29,374
Website

Re: Commercial use of Arch Linux

stefan wrote:

For every packet we install, check its `LICENSE` whether it conflicts with our intended use.

This is a good idea for everyone, in all contexts, but I don't see anything specific to use in a commercial environment making this more relevant / important.

I don't know of any official statement to the effect, but certainly all software in the repos comes with a license granting rights to use the software.  And in fact, all software in the repos also must come with a license granting rights to redistribute or it couldn't be in the repos at all.  But really only the usage rights are relevant for your case - so you're set.

I use arch linux "commerically" by this definition as my businesses website runs on a server running arch linux.  I am not aware of any software license that restricts usage to non-commercial entities and I doubt any such license would be legally defensible.  More concretely, no license approved by the FSF or the OSI as being an "open source" license can impose such a restriction (these organisations would specifically not allow it).

Note there are some obscure and usually individually / custom written licenses that try to restrict usage from certain contexts that the software authors consider high risk (nuclear reactor facilities being the cliche example) so that in the event of a catastrophic accident the software authors can avoid responsibility claiming any use of their software there was a violation of their copyright.  However that's grossly conflating and confusing copyright protections from liability waiving (the latter of which is standard boilerplate in every license I am aware of even when granting rights to use the software without restriction).

Last edited by Trilby (2023-07-02 18:45:09)


"UNIX is simple and coherent..." - Dennis Ritchie, "GNU's Not UNIX" -  Richard Stallman

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