A dollar per month contribution, and why LibreOffice needs it

By Eric Bright

We need your help here at The Document Foundation. LibreOffice needs your support. In this article, I am going to ask you for help. I am going to ask you for a commitment to a monthly donation to The Document Foundation.

If I am successful, at the end you will be convinced as to why LibreOffice needs your help, why even a small donation will help, and why a monthly contribution, even if small, makes a huge difference compared to a larger, one-time donation. Here is the story!

Costs! The old, ugly, familiar costs!

If I ask you to donate $1 CAD to The Document Foundation, you might ask yourself, “What? $1? What is that supposed to achieve? Are you kidding me?”

Everything costs something on earth. Let me try and explain, in rough estimates, what the costs of working on LibreOffice might be. I don’t have all the figures and my numbers will be all back-of-a-napkin estimates. But it will show you something important, nonetheless.

My own story

I own 7 or 8 domain names (embarrassing that I cannot remember the exact number, I know). To keep those names, I have to pay a domain name registration fee to a couple of companies. The cost of doing that for me is not too big, between $12 to $14 CAD per domain name per year. So, I am paying, roughly $100 CAD per year just to keep those names.

Paying those fees is not enough for me to have a website. I also must buy some space on a computer in someone’s company to host the contents of my websites, let’s call them a Service Provider. They would play the role of a host for my stuff online. In my case, I have to pay something like $13 CAD per month to have that service. That will be almost $150 CAD, give or take.

So far, I am paying almost $250 CAD a year just to secure a few services. I still have to create some contents on the host to show to the world. A website needs to be made; you know. I have to buy stuff for my website that at first might not seem obvious: Although I usually use open source software for my website, there are some things that cannot be done easily without paying someone, something. One of those things I have to pay for is a software that controls spammers and hold them back from polluting my websites. That is almost $10 CAD per year in my case.

So far my yearly bill is $260 CAD.

If I want to have a secure connection between my server and the visitors of my website, then I have a few options: I can buy a certificate from a certificate authority that makes sure such a secure connection would be possible to be made between the two sides. If I choose that route, then I will have to buy that certificate too. They are very expensive, usually more than $100 CAD per year per certificate. I don’t have that kind of money, so I chose the other route: Use a free certificate provided by a company. Well, most larger organizations don’t want to go down that path, or cannot, or are prohibited to do so by law. At any rate, many large companies with many websites will have to pay a lot of money to buy those certificates.

Then comes the time I spend on creating my website and writing articles. That is not free, although I am not directly paying anyone in cash to do so, still, that has a price. When I was in IT business, I was getting paid something like $35 CAD per hour to work on whatever I was working on. That was good money for a junior IT guy. Later, I was not as fortunate. I am teacher now, and I am being paid a fraction of that.

Let us assume my time is worth something like $35 per hour, although I am not being paid that much right now. When I spend 10 hours on writing an article, then will mean something like $350 CAD. No one pays me that money, but that is the cost of my labour anyway. I could work somewhere for that time and get paid instead. So, that is the money that I am not making, which goes into my cost (it is a form of “opportunity cost”).

If I write only 5 articles per year, then I will be spending $1750 as opportunity cost into my digital presence per year.

At this point, my website is costing me almost $2000 per year.

Okay, I think that is enough to see how it works: ($2000 CAD cost per year) / (365 days per year) = $5.48 per day.

The cost of having, maintaining, and improving my website would be almost $5.5 CAD per day. That is the money I am burning per day to have all of these running. That is $0.45 per hour.

Jeez! I just realized how much I am spending on my stuff. I had never done that calculation before. Now it looks pretty scary to me. No wonder I am constantly poor!

The Document Foundation’s costs

Now when you turn to TDF, the costs to keep it running is way higher that mine. I have almost no significant traffic, so I don’t have to pay anything for my bandwidth in addition to the price included in my hosting package. TDF has to pay a lot of money for extra bandwidth. Let us do a back-of-a-napkin calculation and see how much bandwidth TDF uses and should pay for:

If you click on the download link at the TDF’s website and download a copy of LO, that would download a file that is almost 315 megabytes in size at this time (it keeps changing from release to release).

If you look at how many downloads are being made per week you might find a different number from one week to another. Let’s assume we have 10,000 download per week (I know this is not accurate and the number could be much larger that 10k, but that only proves my point further).

So, in one week, there are 3,150,000 megabytes of bandwidth that is used only through the downloads. That is 3.15 terabytes of bandwidth just for downloads per week or 12.6 terabytes per month.

I don’t know about you, but I am not aware of a hosting service that will allow you to get away with that volume of traffic for $10 CAD per month. Yes, they will say “unlimited data transfer” but that is a marketing trick. It might be true on your contract, but try to achieve that amount of traffic through your host and see what will happen. The least that will happen is that your website starts to load slower, slower, and slower to the point that it will not even load the home page. That is because a basic hosting service is on a shared server. Your account is sharing the same machine with 3000 to 6000 other accounts. That single machine has limited capacity and will reach its maximum capacity very quickly if you push it.

That is why you will soon learn that you will have to move to a dedicated server because your shared service is not holding up to the demand. Now, we are talking about $25 CAD or more per month. That is $300 CAD and more just to host the download server. Of course, TDF has way more traffic than that. TDF has many websites, wikis, and infrastructures that need to be kept online 24/7/365.

So far, we came to roughly 1 Canadian cent per download cost of running TDF (it is certainly more than that, but I don’t know the exact numbers).

As you can see, each time that anyone clicks on that “Download” link, TDF pays $0.01 CAD to someone, give or take.

What can my $1 CAD monthly contributions buy you?

Back to the first question: If you thought that your monthly contributions makes no difference, then look at this: Your $1 CAD monthly contribution will buy almost 100 downloads for TDF. You will be paying the cost of 100 downloads of LO each month.

Don’t you think if that is significant?

I think that is very significant. The costs add up quickly. A download server is not the only thing TDF has to take care of. There are a thousand and one fees and bills that TDF must pay, and your monthly contribution counts, big deal.

Can I pay a one-time donation instead?

We love you even if you never pay anything and contribute nothing to TDF, all the same. If you donate $1 or any other amount, only once, you will still be paying a bill somewhere. Even if it would be once. That would be lovely! Thank you!

Also, please note that psychologically speaking, when we donate a chunk of money, like $5 or something, we will immediately feel great about ourselves, and then feel that we have done a great job (which is true). Then we go about our business and often won’t look back ever again. It is a simple human psychology.

Instead, think about the contribution this way: The Document Foundation is an operation. That means it has to pay the bill not once, not this month, and not this year only. It is an ongoing work that keeps marching from month to month. There is no finish-line for us to cross. There is no time at which we can say, “We finally finished building this tool. Yay! Now we can shut down and go home. There will be no expenses from this day on.”

TDF is an ongoing operation that needs your ongoing support. This is why a monthly contribution of $1 would be a lot more helpful to us than a one-time donation of $5. The first thing will go on for a while, but the second one stops while our expenses keep piling up.

Would you buy us a cup of coffee on your way back please?

When I was working in a construction company as a site supervisor, I often wanted to go to a coffee shop and buy myself a coffee; usually a few times a day. Almost always there were other trades in the job site who would see me and shout from far away, “Eric! Would you please buy us coffee on your way back?” and assuming that I was going to a coffee shop and I was going to say yes. They were right on both counts. Even when they were wrong on the first guess, i.e. if I was going to a coffee shop, still they were right with there second guess: that I would get them coffee on my way back anyway. Every bleeping day!

So, I would see them working hard, sweating, trying to focus on the job, getting tired, and so on. I couldn’t say no to them. It would have been insane. How could I?

At The Document Foundation, there are many of us who volunteer our time, attention, money, and other things. This is all great! However, this has never been enough to keep the operation going. We get tired, we get confused, we have full-time programmers on the job who are working hard, usually way beyond the scope of their contracts, to get things done.

Consider this: you are buying one of them half a cup of coffee every month (a full cup of coffee, here in Toronto is usually $2 CAD or). If I ask you, “Would you please buy our programmers half a cup of coffee per month, on your way back from work?” Would you say no? Exactly!

We need you!

I might sound like begging, and it might be so; I don’t know. But, every time I talk to anyone at TDF about why something is not going the way it must, the answer boils down to money: We are short. We have a bit of money in the bank, which is being used for a thousand things. But that is not enough to hire enough high-quality coders to fix all the things that need fixing.

We cannot do it alone. We don’t know everything, although there are very smart programmers on the team. We still need help with a lot of things.

The bug reports are like tsunami: they bury you alive if you blink for a second or look away. We are barely surviving by keeping the bugs as many as they are. We want to have zero bugs, but we cannot. Because we cannot afford the resources needed for doing that. We need your help.

Our code base is ageing, again. Everything ages in this universe, by the way. The code needs a lot of fundamental work, again. We cannot afford most of those works. The money we have in the bank is enough to pay a few full-time programmers to chase those targets, but that is never enough. We are running only to keep being in the same place, like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

There are angry mobs on our back, whining, screaming, complaining, and asking for help. I am one of those people by the way. I need innovation, code refactoring, API-modernization, and on and on. I keep screaming and running around. But, none of those things can be done with empty hands. Programmers are humans too (at least up to this day). If they are very good, they will be hired by companies for very good salaries. Not that they don’t like to help, but they will be too busy to help us for free. How can we hire more good quality, full-time programmers when our resources are not going to cover their salaries?

We cannot do it alone. We need your help. Consider buying one The Document Foundation folk half a cup of coffee a month, that is contributing $1 monthly, on your way back from work! Would you do that for us? Please?

Thank you! See you when you get back from work, then!

3 thoughts on “A dollar per month contribution, and why LibreOffice needs it”

  1. Its good to donate to TDF’s work – however your arithemetic on bandwidth costs is not accurate. We use Mirrorbrain – which helps distribute downloads to a large mirror network that we don’t pay for. That mirror network is a generous donation from our supporters, but may also offset its own cost by taking out large amounts of long-distance download traffic for local users, so reducing costs all around the edge. We do pay a lot for infrastructure though, the CI system, gerrit, mailing lists, our own Jitsi, a Nextcloud server, SSO setup, a huge bug database, clustered HA magic, etc. etc.

    1. Thank you Michael for being here and your comment. It’s an honour to have you here. For those of you who might be reading these comments and might not know who Michael is, I must say, without a doubt, he is one of the parents of LibreOffice. It would be very hard to imagine LO without his kind and generous support, for several DECADES! That is how central the role of such a treasure is to LibreOffice and to The Document Foundation.

      As for my mock-up calculation, you are 100% right. I based it on my personal, limited, and non-representative experience, which was sure to be off. Thank you for bringing more details to the conversation. Anyone reading your comment will get a better idea what the actual facts might look like.

      At the same time, the point of the article was made to be independent of the exact numbers, as you might agree. The point was that TDF has to pay for its great service to society and to humanity, one way or another. The exact numbers might be different or come from different activities and bills, but the fact that a lot of it is NOT for free is still there. Your more detailed break-down of the costs show that if the bandwidth is donated, there are other costs there that are not. Lending financial support to TDF, as you said, is still as crucial as before.

      Again, thank you for filling the gaps and adding shedding light on the details of the costs for running such a huge show that benefits us all!

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