Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”.
Yes, sure, free software is a matter of liberty, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost anything to create it. Right. Some actual money for the servers and most importantly, for the developers. There is tons of free software out there (and in the broader sense, free content, like Wikipedia) and most of it is a passion project of a well-employed nerd with just a few users, so everything is all right.
So what’s the problem then? Dependability. This model works great if you copy a free picture and use it in your design. If you copy a 25 lines long shell script into your cron. If you grasp the general idea from someone else’s code and use it elsewhere. If you build your work against a tiny library you could, in theory, write yourself, but it would be too annoying (make sure it is in fact tiny, log4j I am staring at you). But things quickly become hairy, if the target is complex and you need to depend on it for 10 years or so. On such a scale the question is not whether a vulnerability will be found, but rather who will fix it. The community? Communities are very powerful. If you’ve ever contributed to nixpkgs, asked in an Arch forum, or otherwise engaged in an active community, you know what I am talking about. They can be very lively, write wikis, answer questions, get their hands dirty and contribute code, but they can never do that alone. Small communities are too small and the large ones need someone to lead them (and the project of course). And these leaders need a ton of enthusiasm (might degrade over time) and/or some money to be able to invest enough time into the project.
Now to the point. Reading articles like this one and nodding in agreement (my free-time occupation for the last 6 years) doesn’t really help. Surely, large companies are at fault, they should pay for the pillars of their success and their money would matter the most, but does that justify regular users paying nothing? No. At least when you can afford it. As a student, I am not exactly bathing in golden coins, but giving the price of a lunch or two a month won’t affect my life in any way. It won’t change the life of the recipient either, but it may send a good message and if I manage to build a habit of regularly contributing and find a good job, I can easily raise the bar. All of the contributions can be found on a dedicated page.
If this way of reasoning sound familiar to you, please join me on a journey to more sustainable open content and be so kind and write me about it. I may list you on this site possibly compete with your donated amounts :).