Paying anything for all that free software you download? No? Then you’re doing it wrong, at least according to the team behind elementary OS. In fact, they think you’re a low-down, dirty cheater.

They’re currently taking a lot of heat for changes to the elementary OS website that are in the works. It has to do with the download process, and how “donations” are solicited. I put that in quotes, because they way they’re talking about them it doesn’t sound much like a donation any more.


The plan is to put the download buttons behind a donation box that defaults to $10. Users can change it to whatever value they want, including $0 if they’d prefer not to contribute. elementary says those folks account for 99.875% of all downloads. And those people? “We want users to understand that they’re pretty much cheating the system when they choose not to pay for software,” says elementary’s blog post.

Yep. You’re pretty much cheating the system when you choose to download elementary OS for free, an OS that’s described as “a free replacement for Windows on the PC and OS X on the Mac.” The same web page notes that “elementary OS is completely free” and that “there are no costly fees” to worry about.

Interesting word choices when you’ve chosen to refer to people who don’t offer a cash donation as cheaters.

Those of you who want to make things right, well, you might want to donate to the folks at Debian instead. Why? Well, elementary is based on Ubuntu and Ubuntu is based on Debian. We’ll assume elementary’s maintainers aren’t cheaters and that’s what they do.

Update: the language on elementary’s blog post has been updated; most notably, the ‘cheating’ part is gone. They’ve also pointed out that the change in their download flow will be part of their new website — it’s not active yet. Ultimately, the whole situation underscores just how dicey things can get when you try to solicit funding for an open source project.

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Lee Mathews

Computer tech, blogger, husband, father, and avid MSI U100 user.

81 replies on “elementary OS devs say you’re cheating if you don’t pay for free software”

  1. this is an open source project you should not feel guilty for not paying for it. If you truly want to support the project then you pay for it. You should not feel forced to pay for it. its not like Windows where you have no choice but to pay for it. This is linux it should always be free. Ubuntu does the same thing when you download the their OS. they ask if you want to contribute to the project.

    Anyone can contribute to the project:

  2. i would say one thing that people are spending hundreds of dollars on windows and mac os and there apps. then if they wish they should donate for linux OSs or apps. because they are doing really hard work for it. in the place of spending $100 for something, it is worth to donate $10 at least to the community who is working on projects. it’s not a bad idea at all. Windows and MacOs apps needs money on every step.

  3. Oh no, throwing some cash back at people who have created something that you use. I would say that if you do not like them asking for money at least shut the heck up and stop complaining about something that you got for free.

  4. If software is free, it’s intended to be free by the developer, so people don’t have to pay for it. Now, what would be “cheating” is illegally downloading software for free when normally it costs something.

    Now, because I haven’t gotten a job yet, free software is an absolute godsend. So, until I can actually buy new versions of Windows, I’ll be sticking to Ubuntu derivatives on computers that are new enough to run new operating systems, but those I don’t have a Windows license for.

  5. “Community Driven. Elementary has a single goal: to provide the best possible experience for our community. We’re driven by a desire to be better, not by a paycheck. Contributors aren’t profit-maximizers, they’re purpose-maximizers.” <- This is what the Elementary team claims it is all about. It's right there on their website. So then why the sudden change of mind? Do they donate to other projects they have been using to build their OS as well (Debian, Ubuntu, Gnome…etc. basically everything that makes an OS)? I mean, I have no problem paying/donating for the OS, which I have in the past, but not if you're telling me it's not about money and then – all of a sudden – it is.

  6. I use eOS in Virtual Box. Just playing with it. I have absolutely no intention for paying even $1 for eOS… unless I start regularly using it. Then I will give them more than $1.

  7. I find their “cheater” comments a bit uncalled for as well. Open-source programs are supposed to be free to use. If the program works well most will then donate if they are able. Even some pay to use programs such as Windows have a 30 day trial period where a person can download from their site and use the program before the program will then require payment in order to continue to work. However, calling those that don’t donate before trying the program cheaters will turn people away from donating and even using the program in the first place. For example I use Edubuntu (essentially Ubuntu with a GNOME option and a suite of education-based programs) on my office desktop. I have also played around with a USB loaded with Lubuntu and Kubuntu (for the record all three work well with appropriate equipment, appropriate equipment with Ubuntu/Edubuntu requires about 2.5GB of RAM whereas Lubuntu requires less than a GB, Kubuntu about a GB). My course of action was to try Ubuntu for a while and once I liked it I then got my debit card out and donated (they saved me from either buying a new desktop or Windows 8 for a six year old computer running Win XP SP3 so I think I received a good deal even with my donation). IMO that is an appropriate manner for dealing with open-source program donations. Canonical (the organization behind the Ubuntu line of operating systems) did not call me nasty names for not donating, actually I have never even received an e-mail asking for donations (yes, they do have my e-mail).

  8. If I donate to them for that reason, they should donate to Canonical for basing eOS off of Ubuntu, and Canonical should donate to Debian because Ubuntu is based off Debian, and Debian should donate to Linus Torvalds because he wrote the Linux kernel that makes all of our free and open sourced software possible.
    I would definitely donate if they didn’t use such harsh words as if they were being wronged.
    I mean, you contribute to producing free and open-sourced software. It should be more of a labor of love rather than a way to make money. If you want to make money off of this, go work for Microsoft or Apple.

  9. @cassidyjames:disqus: A Letter to eOS 😀 (please read it till bottom , it is for better future of eOS)

    Sir first of all i have not donated to ElementaryOS till now because I can’t . I am a college student and without any credit/debit or other such cards BUT I love the Elementary OS and I understand how much hard work was done in making it and I am always ready to support it and will SURELY donate once i am able to.

    But the words you chose to tell the people that they should donate instead of getting it for free were not proper and some even got offended (even myself when i got the tag as cheater. good that blog is edited)

    Either you should have taken the issue in funny manner and would have said that “Donation box is so hungry that it is starting to eat the elementary developers…..Save us save elementary” I know my example is lame but it was just as example :P.
    And then would have told others that that money is going nowhere but in clearing out bugs. With this approach things would have taken in positive manner and maybe people would have donated seriously because we love elementaryOS ! And we don’t want to fade it away. Many website praises elementary OS, some even claim that it is the best thing happened to the linux desktop environment.

    Mohit Arora(devilex94)
    Proud ElementaryOS user

  10. Its not what you say but how you say it. I will never use Elementary OS again.

  11. At the risk of sounding anti open source (I’m not) maybe, just maybe the “system” at least as it is, DOESN’T WORK.

  12. No way I’m gonna pay for something, if it won’t run on My Computer. How do I know if the OS supports my Wifi, ATI Graphics and Audio drivers? For example, I paid $50 to upgrade Windows 2000 to Vista. I felt ripped off after I saw how lousy Vista was. NOTHING worked anymore. I tried lots of FREE Linux versions too, but I always go back to Linux Mint. Everything just works with Mint. Yes, I’ve donated money to them. Not because they forced me to, but because I like the product and I want to support it. I’ve also donated money to Mozilla, because I like Firefox and want to support it. But I’ve avoided paying Microsoft a penny after I saw how lame Windows 8 was. I’ve never tried elementary OS, but after reading this article I probably never will.

  13. How do i install mint over elementary os without losing data? Can anyone give me a hand? I do not like to be called a cheater!

  14. OK. Before you post a comment, you really should take a few minutes to read the updated blog. It explains their logic behind using the buttons. Encouraging people to donate to FOSS projects is a good thing. I think their approach is a little heavy-handed. Personally, I prefer the old way or the way Ubuntu does it, but whatever.
    Using the phrase “cheating the system” was a poor choice. They’ve amended the blog to use better language. I don’t think they intended to refer to their users as “cheaters”. I think it was meant to say that people who don’t donate to the project are causing it to be less than it could be. I know people on the internet keep their pitchforks under their desks, but this seems overkill even for the internet. To paraphrase a quote from the Bible, “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” I’d be willing to bet that everyone has said or wrote something that was taken the wrong way at one time or another. I’d also be willing to bet that it’s going to happen again sometime in the future. Are you treating the person who wrote the blog the way you’d like to be treated? Would you like to be verbally eviscerated over a misunderstanding? Show the guy some mercy. Furthermore, is it fair to punish everyone who works on elementary OS because one person made a poor choice of words?

  15. “Users have downloaded Luna over 2,000,000 times. Around 99.875% of those users download without paying.”

    Perhaps if they used the word “contribute” or “donate” instead repeatedly telling people they should be paying.

    With Linux distros, I’d rather be part of something rather than just a customer.

  16. this sounds like one of obamas convoluted incomprehensible idiot nut job statements he makes daily.

  17. It’s also interesting that the other day, we had the article about how terrible it was that so many people couldn’t even pay $6 for a calendar app, but today it’s terrible that people might be tricked into paying $1 for a complete operating system.

    Yes, I know that one is piracy and the other isn’t, but I don’t see a problem with what the developers here have done. What if instead they’d charged $6 for it? It seems odd for us to criticise the developers just because actually they offer it for free, but not criticise them if you had to pay.

    Note that some Open Source developers go even further – e.g., putting a paid version of Google Play, even though you can download it for free. Is that wrong too?

    1. No. Calling people “cheaters!!!” for using the free version would be if your Android app is FOSS and 99.99% code written by other people.

    2. It’s okay to ask for donations but calling the people who don’t cheaters is not okay. Plus, what if someone donated a week before when they last downloaded the ISO. Then, for some reason, need to download it again but this time that person is called a cheater for not donating. I’ve downloaded ISOs multiple times due to not having it readily on hand and have donated on some of those downloads.

      Also, I don’t mind them charging money. I use Red Hat Enterprise Linux and you get what you pay for.

      In the end, what people got upset about is how the developers portrayed people who don’t donate (possibly even on every download) and not the actual request for donation.

  18. Two or Three times a year I’ll download a new OS. Often it will either fail to work entirely or in part. Often I’m just curious and want to give it a test run and will remove shortly after. I’m more than happy to donate or buy some merchandise IF I stick with the OS, the problem is I often forget. Perhaps some kind of reminder [not quite sure how best to do this without compromising privacy or adding hurdles] that kicks in after 30 days use would be a good idea, for us well meaning but absent minded folks!?

  19. I can’t see where in the blog it says that? I don’t know if it has been amended. If they did say it, it’s a foolish sentence – but the rest of it, everything I read now in that post, seems fine to me, as does what they’ve done.

    A lot of Open Source software accepts donations, which is a perfectly good way of funding it. And the amount of donations can be significantly affected by how this is done – “pay what you want (including nothing)” is a popular model for Indies, and I imagine results in a lot more money than relying on people donating at a later date.

    On top of that, I don’t see that their new way is that different to the old way anyway. With the new way, yes people might not realise that “custom” can be “0”, but the old way still had the text box defaulting to $10, and people might think that they can’t put 0, or think they need a credit card or paypal – the new version doesn’t have that problem.

  20. LUNA = Goddess of WEALTH
    FREYA = Goddess of WEALTH
    ISIS = Goddess of WEALTH

    I think these young merchant men have more issues than meet the eye.

  21. Elementary uses such old builds as their base most folks are just downloading to see if they’ve caught up or are still 3 years behind. Maybe if they worked harder they’d achieve the level of donates that Mint rakes in.

  22. Protip to eOS devs, though I do appreciate their hard work, if you wanted to make money, maybe you shouldn’t be developing on an OPEN SOURCE and FREE PLATFORM/OS.

  23. Hey Lee. Cassidy from elementary here (author of the blog post). We’ve since reworked some of the language since people were misinterpreting it.

    Also, your post seems to be confusing the current website and the new, beta website which is still a work in progress. A clarification would be appreciated. 🙂

    1. I read the article it was very clear…and I believe Brad was rather lenient in his commentary, albeit articulate in his manner.

      I’ve uninstalled this OS from my system.



    2. Yes, it was just ‘people misinterpreting it’. What ever you do, don’t accept any of the blame.

    3. It was abundantly clear that you think that I am cheating for using your software without donating. You shouldn’t make your OS available for free download, and then call people cheaters for not donating. I have no obligation to donate, and I have even less obligation to use your software.

      I’ve moved on to a better OS, and a developer that doesn’t call me a cheater for not donating.

      1. I would go with cheap vs cheating the system. If you use the software that someone has spent countless hours developing, that you utilize every day. You really should donate something.

    4. I don’t think there were any misinterpretations, its pretty clear what you think of your users.

      Honestly it comes across looking like a rude waitress crying over her tips.

      1. Come on guys, surely we can express our opinion without using foul language! This was supposed to be a site full of intelligent people…

    5. Calling people cheaters is really classy. I can tell you are a consummate professional!

    6. I love elementary OS. It’s one of my favorite distros. I don’t think you meant the phrase “cheating the system” the way most people are taking it. I think an apology would help douse the flames of internet outrage.

    7. Oh yes everybody misinterpreted what you wrote… you are a class act.
      Shove your OS where the sun don’t shine sir.

  24. Elementary OS is based off of Ubuntu. It’s not exactly rocket science to make Elementary OS coming from Ubuntu, a super highly customizable OS while being user friendly.

    Did they pay Ubuntu?

  25. Being honest here… I just deleted the ISO from my PC after reading this. I was going to replace Ubuntu with it, now i’ll just keep Ubuntu.
    Linux Mint, maybe…

  26. Its really not hard to create an linux distro built from Ubuntu/Debian. Unless they are including software applications that they wrote I couldn’t see donating when it is open-source.

    1. They built a whole desktop environment, GTK and icon theme and basically all standard apps (except the browser and mail client). Maybe that’s worth a beer…

  27. Weirdly sarcastic text by Liliputing standards. Weird also that the text doesn’t mention the free as in beer vs freedom/libre distinction.

    1. No complaints from me, but I definitely prefer Brad’s objective style of writing with the occasional, but very relevant subjective comments.

      1. Amen! This is precisely why this is my favorite tech news website. It’s so refreshing to get tech news without a healthy dose of bias. That being said, like you, I can live with this article being written the way it is. We all make certain compromises from time to time.

    2. In this case, there is no such distinction. eOS developers claim that their distro is both gratis and libre.

  28. This sorta thing is just silly. If they want revenue….get rid of the .org web address and search out advertisers interested in the demo they cater to….or just put ads on their .org and promise to donate anything that starts to look like profits to something else….maybe other open source projects.

  29. I’m still convinced that those 99.875% of users think that just because they are giving away their OS for free, that it means it cost them nothing to make. People forget how much money developers are losing in order to work on FOSS sometimes…

    1. Nobody is that stupid, but if you decide to give something away don’t accuse people of cheating by taking your free stuff. Do you volunteer at a local charity event and call the organizers out for being cheap because of not paying you?

    2. If your “free” product and ecosystem have popularity revenue doesn’t have to come from users. We all had free TV and Radio for ages….yet that “free” TV and Radio created enterprises that still control a lot of the TV and Radio industry to this day.

      It boggles my mind why everyone is so anti-ad….yet wants free stuff and how these FOSS sorts seem to be anti-capitalist and hence anti-ad….but still expect revenue for something they don’t set a minimum price for. It’s all completely ignorant from all directions.

      1. It makes a lot more sense when you accept that socialists substitute emotion for logic.

  30. So – how much of the money they do take in are they contributing back upstream to the free bases they are built on? I’m guessing about zero percent.

  31. This article is a little deceptive. Ubuntu does this as well, it’s quite a regular practice because that’s how these OSS projects survive. What’s unusual is the verbage that they used to describe why they are doing it.

    1. Actually this article is about them changing to a new way of hiding the custom value input field. Rather than giving you the input field up front, now you have “$10, $20, $50, and Custom”. On first glance that looks like paying is your only option. Also, Ubuntu actually has a button that says “Not now, just take me to download”, with these guys you actually have to manually set things to $0.

      1. I can read, I know what it’s about. Ubuntu does a similar thing is all I was saying. chill.

        1. My point is that what Ubuntu does isn’t really the same. There’s a difference when you’re asking for donation giving the option to not donate and when you’re asking for donations but concealing the option to not donate.

      2. It just as much looks like you have to pay with the old version – in fact the old version was worse, due to the credit card/paypal option that also had to be selected.

        1. If you put in $0, the cc/paypal radio boxes are grayed out. So the old way is still better. It’s still pretty bad compared to how Ubuntu gives you a button that just completely skips all that and gets you to the download but it’s much better than concealing the input field.

          If you were paying for a meal at a restaurant and the card machine presents to you with option of “Enter Tip Amount” or “Select the following tip amount 10%, 15%, 20%, Other.” The second one looks like it’s forcing a tip on you whereas the first one asks you to enter the amount you choose. And input field is an input field. People know they can change it. A button is not something you can change.

    2. You’re right, Ubuntu just started prompting users to a donation page too when you click Download. And the default amount is $16, broken up into 8 seperate $2 donations.

      But this article is right, for the devs to come out and accuse people of stealing… Thats slimey. It’s their own fault if they tried to build a for-profit business out of free software. Sure its a more refined product than the ones that are cobbled together in the spare time of a few dozen computer science students. But there are better ways to present the business model to your users.

          1. Maybe that’s why they lack funding. The people who use it don’t know how to setup a Paypal account 😛

        1. I use it a little bit. It’s not horrible: quite simplistic, really. I just don’t like Midori’s lack of functionality (I boot from a live CD, so getting an alternative browser installed every time is time-consuming and not always practical). Also, when I set up some computers that have proprietary hardware drivers, I have to make sure I’m connected to the internet to get those drivers (unlike Ubuntu), which involves having an Ethernet cable on hand, and whatnot.

    3. I don’t mind the way the projects do it with the prompt — I like “just take me to the download” or $0, especially if I’m redownloading, but I wouldn’t be upset with just the way Elementary is doing it either.

      … except for the “cheating the system” language. THAT part sticks in my craw.

  32. No, not cheating. Just not cooperating with the developer’s business model.

  33. Good thing that Elementary is not the only free OS around. Not even the only one trying to resemble OSX. But most likely the only one expecting huge donations while using other free software for free in their product (the kernel, the graphical environment, the bazillion little tools that make up a linux distro). Or should we assume they donate to the communities their distro is based on?

    1. I am not trying to say e-OS is right, but they code their own graphical environment; probably not from scratch but pantheon is theirs isnt’it?

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