Ruby on Rails
Ta-da List


May 27, 11:20

Only fools believe in free software?

With Who will pay, part 2, Dave Winer commits enough fear, uncertainty, and doubt against the free software1 to rival the best of them. Winer wants people to buy commercial software. Not to enjoy specific merits, but rather to comply with a set of general values. His general values, mind you. It's disheartening that he feels the need to dress a his (arguably noble) message in such a ragged set of arguments. Let's examine them:

  • Developers program software to make a living:
    Yes, some do. While others do it to learn, to socialize, to have fun, to enjoy fame, to give something back. There're plenty of roles in which you can pursue the latter reasons. Be it as an employed developer working nights or weekends, a student, a researcher, as unemployed, or aspiring programmer. "Developer trying to make a living" is a (small?) subset of the programming capacities in the world.
  • $20 for a piece of software is not enough:
    The marginal cost of distributing software is close to zero. So to make $10,000 from a piece of software, it's just as well to sell 500 copies at $20 as it is to sell 250 copies at $40. How can you ever generalize about what the price ought to be in order to get "...the way of support or upgrades [you think you deserve]"?
  • Free software is developed in solitude:
    The "original author" is contrasted against the "professional software organization", which would lead you to believe that free software is a work of solitude. Of course it's not. Development of free software is often just the contrary as seen by the many communities that spring up around the popular efforts.
  • Only fools believe in free software:
    Unlike transportation, rent, or insurance, making software main resource is the time of the programmer. Which he contributes happily in the case of programming for fun or learning. It's a false comparison, if you accept that programming can occur for reasons other than to make a living.
  • There's no self-respect in using free software:
    This ties in with the notion that you must "pay for software". That by choosing to use free software, I'm somehow doing something unethical. This only seems to be a problem if you don't accept the multitude of reasons, other than making a living, for you someone would develop software.
  • Commercial software is more safe:
    "If you pay nothing for software, may lose data". That's true. Exactly as it's true for commercial software. Do you really want to pursue the argument that "commercial software is of higher quality than free software"?

I've happily buy tons of software, but for the merits — not because I feel ethically implied to do so. Meaning that if a better outliner than OmniOutliner came along, I wouldn't hold being free against it. Like I'm not using Opera over Camino or Safari just because it's developed by a company that has to make a direct profit from it. If it was a better browser than the other two, sure.

Which is also why, before going Mac, I didn't use Radio over MovableType or Greymatter before it. It wasn't serving my needs better. The fact that it carried a $40 price tag did little to help or hinter it.

1 Free as in "no cost", not as in the GPL.

UPDATE: ShareMe calls Dave on the data-loss nonsense