In various software community niches I've been described, over the years, as the software equivalent of Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies. I find outstanding software developers who are happily making freeware programs and lure them to the dark side of the force -- commercial software development.
And so the belief goes that if only the evil bastards at Stardock weren't plucking these Jedi knights of freeware and corrupting them that there'd be these wonderful freeware programs. Or put another way, that the programs that we make that have one of these star developers involved would have come out, as if by magic, as freeware if it weren't for our "greed".
The reality, not surprising, is more complicated than that. The life cycle of a typical freeware developer goes as follows:
- They start developing a program because it's something that interests them personally.
- They continue developing it because they appreciate the accolades, appreciation, and attention they receive from whatever on-line "community" it is involved in it.
- They stop developing it either because they've totally lost interest, have found it extremely "not fun" to keep updating, or because the once supportive "community" has cast them aside for the latest/greatest "freeware" goodie.
As a commercial software developer, I've watched this cycle over and over. Whenever a "free" program begins development in the market we're in, people will say "Aha! Now finally we'll have a free alternative to program X!" What they don't know is that we use the same strategy over and over with freeware "competition"-- we wait them out.
We can always wait out the freeware author because either his program no longer hold his attention in competing with "real life", or it'll become too tedious to keep enhancing it, or (quite commonly) the very people who once went around spamming for them on every forum telling the world that it was the greatest thing have turned around and betrayed them by tossing their support out in favor of some even newer freeware program, even if it's in competition with their freeware program.
I've seen it over and over again. What often drives talented software developers to come to us in the first place is a feeling of betrayal at the hands of their "supporters". They'll make something for free, put it out there, and for awhile, they'll get support, accolades, and attention.
But much of that early support comes from people who worship freeware as an ideology. They use freeware regardless of whether they could afford commercial software (even when it's better) but because they consider commercial software the bane of the universe that must be fought against. But freeware ideologues are a fickle lot. As soon as the next "hot" thing comes out, off they go. Some of the very same people who were once spamming forums talking up freeware program X will later go back and spam for freeware program Y and even mention that Y "kicks the crap out of X!"
This is something we've seen since the beginning of our company (ten years ago). But rarely is it made more vivid than a recent episode involving one of our young developers who has spent a sizeable chunk of his young life selflessly making freeware programs to help support a "community". When we announced ObjectDock 1.11, a FREE program, it was spammed, by people who originated from the same "community" that once claimed undying love and loyalty for this program, in favor of people who want people to try out some other (newer, but far less featured) dock program.
The reaction of some of our developers to such spamming is "Are you guys high??" because ObjectDock, at this point, isn't just slightly more mature, feature rich, etc. (and did I mention free?). It's massively more feature rich, uses less memory, faster, more customizable, etc. than anything else available. That's the benefit of having worked on it for 3 years steadily. But such is the fickle nature of those with the "freeware ideology" that they'll latch on to the newest thing. Their loyalty was never to the freeware developer or the freeware program but rather the freeware cause. Simply put, ObjectDock, while free, got their attention already. Now it was time for them to move to some other thing.
I've seen it so many times. Developers find it rather cutting when they discover that there's very little loyalty or depth of support for them personally or their programs. That the "support" freeware developers receive from on-line communities is often (not always) because it is free and new and nothing else.
Because the cycle repeats and is so predictable, commercial developers rarely fear from freeware developers because it's only a matter of time before that freeware program dies out. The life cycle of the freeware program will play out and the commercial program will be the one that continues to be updated, enhanced, and available while the freeware developer often ends up becoming part of the commercial development team.
In the long-run, it's about incentives. When a software program becomes "mature", enhancing it becomes quite laborious. There has to be some incentive to keep updating it at that point. Commercial software provides a pretty straight forward incentive -- financial income. But glory, accolades, and community support can make a big difference as well. Luckily for us sith lords, community support is nearly always fickle, ultimately turning that Jedi freeware developer into a Sith commercial developer.