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Elementary OS is a minimalist Linux-based operating system that’s going after Windows and macOS users who are ready for something different. Its app store, AppCenter, has recently undergone a big change of its own.

In Elementary OS version 0.4.1, the first release since Loki It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki Elementary OS isn't your typical Linux distribution. Some would say it isn't a distro at all. But is Elementary really a usable alternative to Windows and macOS as its developers claim? Read More , AppCenter no longer provides only free (as in cost 5 Reasons Why Software Should Be Free and Open Source 5 Reasons Why Software Should Be Free and Open Source Free software doesn't just mean you get to use the app or game without paying. It's about longevity and much more -- in fact, all software should be free and open source! Read More ) software. The developers have introduced a pay-what-you-want model for apps made specifically for Elementary OS. This isn’t only big news for the Elementary OS project — it’s groundbreaking for the entire Linux ecosystem.

Making money in the free and open source world isn’t exactly straightforward Why Linux Is Free: How the Open Source World Makes Money Why Linux Is Free: How the Open Source World Makes Money Just why is Linux and open source software free? Is it safe to trust free software? What do the developers get out of it, and how do they make money to continue development? Read More . As a result, desktop apps aren’t quite as diverse as on other platforms. If developers flock to AppCenter and start making money, this could be a lesson for other Linux-based operating systems to follow.

But first, does it work?

Introduction to AppCenter

AppCenter is the way you download additional apps and manage updates on Elementary OS. It isn’t all that different from other Linux app stores Linux App Stores Compared: Which One Is Right for You? Linux App Stores Compared: Which One Is Right for You? Windows users are being guided to an app store. macOS has had one for a while. Linux, meanwhile, has had an app store-style experience for years. But which one is right for you? Read More  or from the way you get apps on your smartphone.

Each Elementary OS download begins with the AppCenter located on the dock. The home screen contains a banner across the top that switches between five different apps. Underneath, more appear under a new Recently Updated section.

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elementary os appcenter home

As far the home screen goes, that’s where the new additions stop. But wait, we’re just getting started!

Making Payments

Each app’s page displays a download button in the top right corner. For the vast majority of software, this button says Free. In the case of those that developers hope you pay money for, the label changes to a recommended payment, such as $1.00.

elementary os appcenter

Clicking this button lets you change the amount. Default options so far are $1, $5, and $10. Those numbers don’t matter all that much. You can enter whatever number you want, including $0, and pay that amount instead.

elementary os appcenter payment popup

The experience matches that of the Elementary OS website. Both the site and AppCenter use Stripe to manage payments. This frees the small team of developers from having to create and manage a system of their own.

First Impressions

I’ve purchased one app so far, the Vocal podcast client. First, I’d like to say it’s nice to finally be able to install Vocal without having to add a Personal Package Archive.

Making the payment felt only marginally different from installing an app for free. AppCenter opens a window that asks for your email address and credit card information. After that, you enter your password, and the install proceeds as normal. It’s a fast process, with the only real indication that your payment went through being the receipt sent to your email address.

elementary os appcenter payment process

There’s no account management, so the Elementary OS team doesn’t have a list of all the apps  you’ve paid for. That’s okay, because you technically aren’t buying these programs. You’re offering donations to developers who are otherwise offering their software for free. When you want to re-download an app you’ve paid for in the past, you’re free to change the number to $0 and proceed as normal.

While that payments process has thus far been pretty painless, I do have one minor gripe with the experience. There still does not appear to be a way to only display apps designed for Elementary OS.

If an app doesn’t appear in the banner or under the Recently Updated section, you’re left searching through categories that also contain software for GNOME, KDE, and other desktop environments. These programs work just fine, but they neither look nor feel like Elementary OS apps.

Only Thing of Its Kind for Linux?

Yes and No.

This isn’t the first app store to let you buy software on Linux. The Ubuntu Software Center allowed for this years ago, but the effort never really went anywhere. Users didn’t have many paid apps to pick from, nor did developers make much money.

Before that, there was the Linspire Click’N’Run store, which has been discontinued for nearly a decade.

Nor is this the first time you can pay what you want for Linux software. The Humble Indie Bundle has long offered pay-what-you-want bundles, but software-wise those consist almost exclusively of games. itch.io is another platform that occasionally offers crowd-funded bundles of indie games.

Elementary OS takes the concept and applies it to general apps. When you open the default app store, you can choose whether you will pay for any given piece of software. If not, you still get access to the same great code. If yes, you give developers extra incentive to create for Elementary OS.

If this initiative takes off, you can bet other distros will follow suit. Crowd-funding may join traditional donations as a way the open source world makes money Understanding How Open Source Software Developers Make Money Understanding How Open Source Software Developers Make Money The truth is: many OSS developers and projects do generate revenue. Read More .

Will You Pay Money for Linux Apps?

Whether or not this experiment proves successful depends on one thing: will you pay for any Elementary OS apps? Contributing software into AppCenter isn’t hard for developers to do, but they may not make the effort without seeing the potential for payoff.

That said, most Linux distros come with package managers filled with software. These programs are of varying quality, but there are thousands of them available from developers who were willing to contribute their code for free. Is this the way the open source ecosystem should remain?

I probably won’t buy many more apps myself. It’s nothing against the project or the developers, but I don’t use Elementary OS as my primary distro. As much as I love the experience, there aren’t yet enough Elementary OS apps to meet my relatively basic needs (let me know when there’s an image editor and a word processor that don’t feel out of place). I also have reservations about whether the small team can stay on top of the inevitable bugs 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs You found a new Linux operating system to try, and you loved it. But then it went wrong. Sometimes Linux gets buggy after a month or two. The question is, why? Read More .

That leaves me in the position most Linux users are in: even if we’re hoping AppCenter succeeds, we can’t do much to help. This task falls squarely on Elementary OS users.

Do you use Elementary OS? Are you willing to pay for apps? Do you believe this is the kind of innovation that Linux needs? Let us know by leaving a comment!

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  1. spyjoshx
    June 2, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    I think the real innovator in apps in the linux world right now is AppImage. Repositories can be downright annoying at times, so developers can make one standalone file that works on ALL distros. AppImage is truly the future of linux software. More app stores are just what we don't need. Fragmentation is the enemy of "The Year Of The Linux Desktop"

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      June 2, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      AppImages are cool. What do you think of flatpaks or snaps?

      • spyjoshx
        June 2, 2017 at 9:03 pm

        Haven't really checked them out that much, but from the few times I've tried to use snaps, they still seem to use the repository mentality. And just the fact that there is two of them, make for even MORE fragmentation. (Correct me if they aren't what I think.)

  2. Austin
    June 1, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    I don't really understand why there isn't a more traditional payment system where you pay the price that is given, nothing else. Even though this pricing model is better than none at all, still, large developers who need to make money to put food on the table aren't going to want to use this. There should be a mix of the pay-what-you-want and the traditional pricing model.

    • Daniel
      June 2, 2017 at 1:48 am

      It is a mix. The "pay what you want" is just an option the dev can leave enabled or not.

  3. Johng
    June 1, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Linux desktop is dead and that's with free software. Devs will spend more on processing fees than the donations themselves.

    • jymm
      June 4, 2017 at 8:32 am

      Wow. I didn't know the Linux desktop was dead. I better quit using it and switch to Windoze. LOL