An email came into the feedback form and it has put me in a ranting mood like no other. It started a few days ago when I made a comment (more of a rant in itself) about how PartedMagic is amazing software. I said that I have absolutely no issues with them charging $50.00 for a copy. The email I got challenged me and said I was a hypocrite because I advocated for Free and Open Source Software and yet I’m okay with them charging money for their software.
Here was my response…
First off thank you so much for taking the time to write in. Regardless to what level I disagree with you I respect and appreciate the fact that you took the time to write in.
Let me start off by correcting you. I have never said nor will I ever advocate software based on cost. Certainly when software has a lower barrier (see cost) to entry it will get more attention because there is less risk in trying it. If it was free and didn’t work out, you’re not out anything. Additionally, the mechanisms that are often required to enforce paid software mean that it may be less readily available for example, in the repos. All that said, what I’m really concerned about and what we mean when we speak of “free and open source software” is not “free” like I can go to the store and get free beer, but FREEdom as in, once I pay for the software I have now purchased it and it’s mine to do with what I please.
The reason this is so valuable, the reason I care so much, the reason we focus so heavily on this aspect is the freedom that comes with open source software means if the developer ever goes under, the development can be continued by ANYONE at ANYTIME. Additionally if the project goes a direction I don’t like I always have the option of hiring a developer and continuing the development of the software as I see fit.
I HAVE advocated and will CONTINUE to advocate that if you have a mission critical software infrastructure it better be free (as in freeDOM) and open source or else you open yourself up to a whole host of problems. If you’re not using free and open source software, than you are essentially stuck with whatever the software vendor is doing, be that going out of business, or going a direction that is wrong for your use case.
The length at which a software project is available at little or in this case no cost to the end user is irrelevant. Most public speakers do not get paid very well the first few years they go to speaking engagements. Once they build a reputation though, a speaking engagement can pay upwards of a few grand. Are we to say that because a given speaker did not have a good long track record of speaking at first and thus weren’t paid very much, if at all, that for the rest of their life they can not charge? Of course not! That would be ridiculous.
In a similar vain, software that has a long proven track record over a period of time has every right and SHOULD be charging for quality work. Developers want to eat, they want to have a nice house, they want to have nice things, just like you and I, so please put yourself in the developers’ shoes for a moment.
You have a special skill set; you worked hard for years to hone your skills. You are filled with passion for your craft and have spent and continue to spend many unpaid hours working because you want to “do more.”
On one hand you have proprietary software vendors that come to you and offer you a six figure income, benefits, vacation, a code of conduct, an office space, when your laptop dies you walk down to the help desk and get another, and when it’s outdated it’s replaced every two years on a contact from Altispeed. Your money is yours because you earned it, no one will question that, you may spend it on whatever you like. Your work, regardless of it’s quality, will be passed off to the user and handled by a support department.
On the other hand, you could go develop open source software, the pay will be whatever people care to donate, and the frequency will be whatever people are feeling that day/month/year. EVERY purchase you make will be scrutinized by the Internet because you used “their money” to buy said purchase. If you have an equipment failure, or if you need new equipment to test on, you’ll buy that out of your pocket. You’ll hear about every problem on Facebook G+ Twitter, Reddit, Telegram, and a few will use your bug reporting system, but everyone you meet will tell you what you need to fix.
Do you know what that kind of system leads to? It leads to developers having “real” jobs and taking FOSS (free and open source) jobs on the side because they’re passionate about the project.
If we paid voluntarily for free and open source software the way we’re willing to pay for proprietary garbage do you know what would happen? We would attract amazing developers to the FOSS side, and make the FOSS side far more attractive than the proprietary side because once we no longer have developers starving they can concentrate on what we want them concentrating on – making awesome software without proprietary restrictions.
You asked me why I think it’s okay to take something that was free yesterday and charge $50 for it today without warning? The answer my friend, is simple. It’s not only okay, it’s what NEEDS to happen because yesterday’s software didn’t have a 10 year track record of exemplary performance with mission critical problems solved. Today it does, so today they are going to charge 1/10th of what a proprietary vendor would charge, and companies like Altispeed are going to use it and have a return on investment that leaves the ROI of propriety solutions in the dust. Home / personal users can either contribute a few dollars or go torrent the software, but anyone who thinks a free and open source company owes them something for nothing, simply because they exist and want it, will get no sympathy from me.
Lastly, no one is “demanding” anything, they are offering a product at a price, if you think the product is worth it, pay it; if not don’t. Personally I’d pay a lot more than $50 for software I need to serve my clients.
That behavior is not only acceptable, but is fair, it is right, and it should be more popular.