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I've seen some freeware projects in the past where the author(s) invested a significant amount of their personal time and resources and never even considered charging for the software. A lot of these projects were donation based, and from what I've heard, donationware can never be a viable business model (even to simply support development costs) because most people choose not to donate if given an option. A lot of these projects eventually shut down because their authors could not sustain them further.

Granted, some people simply like making the community happy (or something), but if you're struggling to keep your project alive, why not charge some small amount such as $10 simply to stay operational? If people find your software useful (and a lot of people found those projects VERY useful) they won't have a problem paying such a small amount.

The question is: if you have a popular app that people like and download in great numbers, why not put a price tag on it? Why do it for free?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jan 11 '11 at 20:28

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can never be a viable business model? Unix and Linux are around already quite a while, as are Perl, Python, Java, R, ImageJ, Eclipse, Netbeans, Komodo Edit, emacs, gcc, dropbox, Adobe reader, Firefox, AVG, Tinn-R,... to name a few I have on my computer. –  Joris Meys Jan 11 '11 at 20:52
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Could you give examples where someone did charge small amounts and did survive? I could imagine some companies charging a small amount and then getting no sales as some people may be rather used to free apps. –  JB King Jan 11 '11 at 21:32

7 Answers 7

One of the main reasons I've heard from people who refuse to charge money for a piece of software they developed is the implied support contract.

That is, if you charge money for something, even if you explicitly say the product is sold as is, there's a certain expectation that you'll provide some amount of support for the product as, well, you took someone's money for it.

For a lot of developers, support is the most unenjoyable part of developing a product, so by keeping a product free it allows the developer to make the rules about how and when to engage in it instead of feeling obligated.

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Doesn't one feel obliged if he releases freeware which disappoints people when no support is provided? –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 11 '11 at 20:38
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@Eugene the rationale is "I created this thing for myself, you might find it useful, here you go; otherwise, bugger off" instead of "I created this thing for you". –  user8 Jan 11 '11 at 20:40
  1. Fun. Development of software product can be fun and can be done for fun.
  2. Altruism. Most people from time to time think about what they live for, and some people come to conclusion, that helping others or sharing resources (including time and knowledge) with others can be a good meaning of their life.
  3. Education. Some developers study by writing free software, testing new technologies etc.
  4. Laziness. Some people prefer to stay pure programmers rather than go into the business side. Once you go into business, you need to choose between technical side and commercial side, and you can't be good in both (just because you have certain limited amount of time which you need to split in one way or another).
  5. Promotion. Sometimes free software is a way to attract people to business site and sell other software that way. Or not software but professional services.
  6. Publicity / reputation / glory. For some people public recognition is much more important than money.
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I do open source work because I like doing it. Not only by doing it am I helping others, but in the long run I see it as helping myself since others are going to get involved to help as well. I heavily depend upon open source tools at my job, so without people spending some of their time to do things like that, I'd really be missing out on some excellent tools.

Also, its a great way to get involved in other projects and learn some new things. Its never a bad thing to keep increasing your skill-set.

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Couple of reasons:

a) Pleasure Charging for something might actually make some activities less pleasurable, I can recommend the extremely interesting Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates U

b) Hassle Starting to charge money for something requires you to take care of a hundred mundane little things, everything from support, setting up payment options, licenses, etc etc

c) Spread Associated with pleasure, but many authors I think are happier the more people use their software rather than earning a little extra

d) Not worth it Some authors think that the money earned won't be enough to offset all the hassle and handling paying customers who now feel entitled to support

e) Never done it before Releasing paying software is like most things in life, if you're never done it before the task can seem daunting but once you do it it seems obvious. This is the same reason why most programmers are employeed rather than self-employed ;)

If for one thinks it's important to find a viable business model for software if you really want to put out a great product. If you can offer great software to a great price but you and your customers benefit since you get the money to support and develop it.

If you just keep it as a casual project you won't have the time and resources to dedicate to the application and both you and your customers loses out (if making the app is what you'd rather be doing that is)

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+1 for Drive. Great book, though I don't like the name. The only "surprising" thing about it is that its principles are surprising to so many people today. –  Mason Wheeler Jan 11 '11 at 20:53

Eric Raymond has the notion that it is a giftbased society and those who do best are those who can afford to give away the most. A very interesting thought.

I would suggest you read his essays on this and other subjects at http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

This one comes from Homesteading the Noosphere - http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/homesteading/ar01s06.html

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I do it out of a sense of pride and accomplishment. I think that I make great, useful software and it pleases me to see other people getting some advantage out of it. Money isn't everything.

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freeware applications are typically one time, unsupported software mostly falling in the utilities category. they are distinct from open source as they are distributed in binary and not source code. freeware authors typically have a day job.

shareware gives a trial period with the intention of getting the product to speak for itself and or getting people hooked. after the trial period the product stops working unless it is registered. even during the trial period the user has to face a 'continue evaluation or register now' dialog which are called nag screens.

donation ware is essentially freeware except the author specifically asks for money if you consider the product useful, and does not have nag screens. in addition donation ware can also be open source.

most open source projects either have sponsors who are paying the core team of developers to continue working on the project, or they have dual licenses where commercial use requires licenses to be purchased, or they have a corresponding enterprise version with many more features.

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