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No good deed goes unpunished
Published on March 15, 2005 By Draginol In

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:

  1. They start developing a program because it's something that interests them personally.
  2. They continue developing it because they appreciate the accolades, appreciation, and attention they receive from whatever on-line "community" it is involved in it.
  3. 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.


Comments (Page 1)
on Mar 15, 2005
Personally, if I can find a freeware program that does what I want to start with, I don't worry about upgrading. Case in point. I bought Music Match, but everytime they add a damn button, it's give me more money. I have ver. 8.1, and it does what I want. As a matter of fact, most programs I DL are freeware. I have some great freeware products that do just what I DLed them for. Why spend big bucks for a couple of other buttons that you possibly aren't going to use anyway. Hurray for freeware. I have a great deal of respect for people that make the freeware. I know it's not easy to make the programs, but I've seen some that are 25kbs, and they want $50 for it. Leave the free thinkers alone. Peace. Hippie
on Mar 15, 2005
..::nods:: I kinda aqgree with Hippie, not all freeware meets such a demise, some programmers are supported by contributions which gives them more incentive..
Some programs started out as freeware and now are being sold in different flavors..Zone Alarm is a perfect example of a program that originated as freeware, and to this day remains freeware, but there is also professional versions you can buy..

There are a few others, I also will opt for freeware whenever practical, when the support runs out for that program (if it does) I just look for another to take it's place, they are abundant, and because they are freeware..quite cheap too! ..LoL

Zero.
on Mar 15, 2005
Some freeware does seem to maintain itself longer than usual such as Irfanview and mIRC (though technically donationware). Overall though Brad is right that while freeware is used by many in the short term, rarely is it a long term solution to software use. If a program has features that are worth paying for and that I need, you can bet I would be willing to shell out the cash for it. Often times there are quite a few programs asking for money that is too high for the content of the program.
I rarely use or need tech support, so allowed to choose been freeware and a commerical product, if the freeware does what I need, its what I use. However I know Stardock is one of the few companies that really has some value built into their products and am happy to contribute to be able to use them.


Posted via WinCustomize Browser/Stardock Central
on Mar 15, 2005
Some freeware does seem to maintain itself longer than usual such as Irfanview and mIRC (though technically donationware). Overall though Brad is right that while freeware is used by many in the short term, rarely is it a long term solution to software use. If a program has features that are worth paying for and that I need, you can bet I would be willing to shell out the cash for it. Often times there are quite a few programs asking for money that is too high for the content of the program.
I rarely use or need tech support, so allowed to choose been freeware and a commerical product, if the freeware does what I need, its what I use. However I know Stardock is one of the few companies that really has some value built into their products and am happy to contribute to be able to use them.


Posted via WinCustomize Browser/Stardock Central
on Mar 15, 2005
Um... hate to point it out to you, but this is called Socialism that you're outlining in the guise of software. You're also outlining the entire concept of leaching off the abled. Eventually the abled say "xxxx it" and become the disabled because it's not worth it to work hard and have everyone else take it from you for "the greater good".

Yes, socialism is a failure, just like freeware. Just ask the people developing Firefox right now...
on Mar 15, 2005
Oh, and before you point out Linux to me. Forget it. First most of the big development in Linux now-a-days is happening in companies like IBM that make pot loads from it and release not so open source code after they're done anyhow, and the rest is done by a hard core group of people that haven't yet gotten fed up. Most of the time because they work for MS or some other company during the day and it's more of a pet project to stick it to "the man" than anything else. Sooner or later they will tire of other people (IBM) making money off of them, and just like the rest of freeware, Linux will flop or be completely commericalized. It's enevitable.
on Mar 16, 2005
Two comments to Draginol:

1. If it hasn't been mentioned in any of your previous rants on freeware, I believe that the smartest of the freeware developers begin as such to gain an eager and thrifty user base upon whom they can "get the bugs out" and refine features/UI. Upon achieving sufficient stability/features/popularity THEN they go to their donation/share/pay/adware model .

2. Your distaste for freeware must be balanced against your personal/economic interest in your own payware.

P.S. I still use Motherboard Monitor, Miranda, Process Explorer, and MyIE2 (now Maxthon).
on Mar 16, 2005
meanwhile in shell-land happens the exact opposite...

yup, free shells (litestep, bb4win/xoblite/bblean, geoshell, emergedesktop, sharpe) are far more actively developed (and supported by the community) than payed shells (talisman and aston).

let's go to the numbers: according blizzle.com between january 2004 and march 2005, there have been:
124 releases related to blackbox for windows (plugins, utilities and builds, didnt count the 1343 styles released over box.crackmonkey.us). and how long has bb4win been around? 4 years.
207 releases related to litestep (again, only modules, builds and distros, i didnt count themes as litestep.net is down due to a hd failure). litestep has been around for 8 years now. you cant say that's new, can you?

i've seen less than 10 releases related to talisman during 2004, while aston got around 15.


if freeware is so wrong why do you keep talking against it? just let it die if that's what you think that will happen.
on Mar 16, 2005
poor draginol. if freeware is so apt to die then why do you cry about it so much? let me tell you why its because everything stardock makes has at least as good freeware equivelents. yoour stuff is the least impressive stuff ive seen out.

all of the best software i use happens to be freeware and so far none of it seems to be dying so your theory is moronic. lets look at stardock products

windowblinds -> tons of free shells that do the job great
objectdock -> 3-4 free ones and most are less buggy than od
multiplicity -> synergy and porgon, both work great and been around for years
desktopx -> kapsules, dotwidget and a couple others work great (but I did hear you bought out kapsules to kill the freeware competition)
cursorxp -> theres 30 of these out there

i have never bought anything stardock makes because theres free stuff thats as good or better. i think the reason you wrote this blog is because you know your stuff doesnt have much ground to stand on and that freeware is your biggest competition and its winning
on Mar 16, 2005
mmm, although i preffer freeware or at least non-corp-wares when i can, i think i'll jump on this one. lets see:
windowblinds -> tons of free shells that do the job great
shells and windowblinds dont do the same thing, shellwm and integrated msstyle support on xp are real alternatives to windowblinds, but although they are very good they are not par.
objectdock -> 3-4 free ones and most are less buggy than od
od is not buggy here (although i havent used it for more than an hour).
desktopx -> kapsules, dotwidget and a couple others work great (but I did hear you bought out kapsules to kill the freeware competition)
true except for the last part. also something to remark, dotwidget is opensource (programmed in vb6), and you didnt mention avedesk!
cursorxp -> theres 30 of these out there
none as good as cursorex, this was a really good investment from stardock.
on Mar 16, 2005

windowblinds -> tons of free shells that do the job great

No 'shell' skins the Window itself.

Pays to get your facts right when being so emphatic.

All very well having an opinion...but an uninformed one is just vaccuous lip-flapping...

on Mar 16, 2005
Hmm I only see half of this as being a problem, and the other half is quite a good thing.
Users bailing on a program for a better program is good, it shows that the 'market' is competative. It means that inferior products do not get supported merely because of some kind of sentimental attachement to a program. (Which sounds a bit hammer and sickle-ish, if you know what I mean)
The bad bit is that the program became inferior in the first place, and that the developer had such and ego to become dissaffected in the first place. The usual opensource method of development fixes this problem, by allowing for orderly transfer of developership if one of the developers leaves, and encouraging other developers to join in the existing project rather than starting competing projects from scratch where there is no need. (whether by fork, or by joining the dev team)
The moral of the tale: get your freeware developer to go opensource, it's good for everybody.
on Mar 16, 2005
I have most of the stardock collection wb.dx,od,ob,fx,ix,ss etc and they were all downloaded for free and when I get enough cash together I will upgrade to the full enhanced versions.
as far as freeware is concerned I've got plenty and use them untill a better programe comes along which is what Draginol was saying I think.
the only freeware that I have as permernant is spybot and windowblinds and the latest freeware of course I personally look at freeware as something to play around with till I find my software solution so to speak.
There's an old saying that does'nt seem to have dated much and that is "You get what you pay for pay peanuts,you get monkeys"
on Mar 16, 2005
I think this kind of discussion is no different than religion and political discussions. No one argues with homeless crazies as to whether their fantasies are real. Have that same nut start preaching to an Atheist, however, and you'll get a theological discussion.

It's no different with open source/freeware junk. Even if you have seen someone talk out of their ass for years, the knee-jerk reaction is to flame them to hell and show them a thing or two. Of course it won't, since their problem isn't their software development philosophy...

I think frank discussion with those on either side who carry a banner about open source/freeware programming is just playing into their fantasies that there is a conflict to begin with. There isn't. Who gives a damn if people choose to pay for proprietary software? Who cares if people prefer not to?

The problem isn't the software. It is the neurotic, socially retarded dinks on either side who feel threatened because the world isn't exactly the way they think it should be.

on Mar 16, 2005
The problem isn't the software. It is the neurotic, socially retarded dinks on either side who feel threatened because the world isn't exactly the way they think it should be.


*applauds BakerStreet's wisdom*
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