Not a thing wrong with making some money. Right? Well, that's the great contradiction in both the open-source and freeware worlds. Everyone loves software that performs a unique task (or replicates the unique tasks of paid-for applications), but the second an aspiring developer attempts to tack a moneymaking scheme to an otherwise free program, said developer might as well call up the fire department and Internet police--there are going to be torches, pitchforks, and angry blog posts knocking on the front door within short order.
It's almost too easy to blame the developer. And for good reason: There's a definitive lack of add-ons, advertisements, and other such cash-generating schemes that actually deliver a valuable service to the user. But, to be fair, users share the fault--if you don't want to read the instructions, you only have yourself to blame for the various toolbars that have been installed on your machine as a result of your super-fast clicking on the "next" button in any given app's installer.
So what do we do? Is it fair of the open-source and freeware world to scorn any developer that tries to make a quick buck? Is it similarly fair for developers to pack their software to the gills with crapware in the hopes that you forget to uncheck a box or two whilst installing? How do we merge the capitalistic ideals of making money with the altruistic aspirations of consumer freeware and open-source development?
I don't feel as if consumers really like to suffer the packaging of services--or even paid-for upgrades--on top of a piece of freeware or open-source software that just plain works. Case in point: Revo Uninstaller. I love Revo Uninstaller. It's a great program for stripping all the bits and pieces of unwanted applications off of one's PC. This app comes in free and paid-for forms and, to be honest, there's really nothing new about the application's core service that is in any way benefitted by switching from the paid-for to the commercial app. So that idea's out.
What about the add-ons? Oh, this is an Internet marketer's worst nightmare. Just take a look at the evolutions of Digsby or Imgburn [[author's edit: Or PDFCreator, just to satisfy those who think that this doesn't happen in the open-source world as well!]] . You know exactly what I'm talking about--the various toolbars, advertising shortcuts, and third-party installed software bits that can "accidentally" get dumped on your system during the app's normal installation process. Slapping a third-party Web browsing toolbar on a user's Internet browser is a great way for a freeware application to make a bit of cash. It's also the perfect method for hacking off users of all skill levels and engagement levels--nobody likes malware.
What about the big elephant in the room: advertising? Would you ever use a free software program that's supported (or saturated) with ads for services or software you might find useful? I... could. Hear me out.
Advertising has become so ingrained in most experiences we interact with--television, Internet searching, driving, et cetera--that it's quite easy to filter it out if you aren't otherwise interested. But that wouldn't help a developer much on the moneymaking front. Advertisers like actions, not impressions. So why not take a page from Google or Facebook and build a marketing apparatus around a user's characteristics?
If I had to suffer through a rotating advertisement in a sidebar in order to get an open-source, carbon-copy of Adobe's PhotoShop, you can bet that I'd turn over some information about my hobbies and activities to whoever asked. Or, better yet, I'd be happy to let a developer's advertising mechanism of choice tie back into my pre-generated Facebook profile. I get an app with a chance for relevant advertising that I might actually care about, an advertising company gets a qualified source, and a developer gets a chance to profit a little bit without pissing off a mainstay of his or her audience in the process.
That's the simplistic view: I'm sure there are 85 ways to twist and improve on this scenario to make it even more "Kick Ass," as Maximum PC likes to say. They key to the castle is relevancy. There's nothing relevant to my interests in making me pay for a little bit more functionality on top of an already sweet product. Nor is there any kind of relevancy in making me install crap that bogs my system down with unwanted activity. Give me a reason to help support an application with my interests, and I'll gladly play ball. Open-source and freeware developer can't make money, and enemies, at the same time.
Sadly, too many are willing to.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software.