Free tools versus paid tools.

We live in a strange world. Information should be free. Tools should be free. Software should be free (and I mean free as in free beer, not as in free speech). Of course, since I make my living (and pay my mortgage) by writing software I tend to disagree. Or rather: I want to get paid for the things I do in the daytime.

Next to that I also spend time on projects I feel are valuable for the community, which I do for free. The reason I can do that is because I get paid enough in the daytime to afford that time. It gives me a good feeling, I help others and it’s fun to do. But the baseline is: I get paid to write software.

I am sure this goes for a lot of other developers. We get paid for what we do during the daytime and spend our free time giving back. So why does everyone always make a fuzz when a company suddenly starts to charge for software? To me, this seems like a very reasonable decision. Companies need money: they have staff to pay, buildings to rent, coffee to buy, etc. All of this doesn’t come free so it makes sense that they charge their customers for the things they produce.

I know there’s a very big Open Source market out there, where companies give away (parts of) their software and get revenue out of the services they provide. But this doesn’t work if your product doesn’t need services. If you build a great tool that is very easy to use, and you give it away for free you won’t get any money by selling services that no user of your tool really needs. So what do you do? You charge money for your tool. It’s either that or stop developing the tool and turn to other, more profitable projects.

Like it or not, that’s simple economics at work. You have something other people want, so you charge them for it.

This week it was announced that what I believe is the most used tool for .net developers (besides Visual Studio of course),namely Red Gates .net reflector, will stop being a free tool. They will charge you $35 for the next version. Suddenly twitter was on fire and everyone was mad about it. But why? The tool is downloaded by so many developers that it must be valuable to them. I know of no serious .net developer who hasn’t got it on his or her machine. So apparently the tool gives them something they need. So why do they expect it to be free? There are developers out there maintaining and extending the tool, building new and better versions of it. And the price? $35 doesn’t seem much. If I think of the time the tool saved me the 35 dollars were earned back in a day.

If by spending this amount of money I can rely on great software that helps me do my job better and faster, I have no problems by spending it. I know that there is a great team behind it, (the Red Gate tools are a must have when developing SQL systems, for instance), and I do believe they are in their right to charge this.

So.. there you have it. This is of course, my opinion. You may think otherwise. Please let me know in the comments what you think!

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Print | posted @ Wednesday, February 2, 2011 4:09 PM

Comments on this entry:

Gravatar # re: Free tools versus paid tools.
by Anonymous at 2/2/2011 11:21 PM

It is certainly okay that they chose to charge for a new, enhanced version. However, that the current free version is timebombed and will cease to work just about one month after the relese of V7 is a really bad move. Most of the anger out there is related to not being able to continue using V6 (or even V5) as-is after the release of V7.

I personally don't know any other free product which was commercialized and the old version was timebombed one month after the commercial release... not speaking of their great words when they initially took Reflector over.

Usually, when you get something for free without an explicit expiration date (there is none in the license to which one agrees when using the free version), you can keep it as long as you got it. They can remove it from their web site, not provide any support for it anymore, heck even advertize the new version in a free V6 release. But taking the free version off the market in this fashion is hardly acceptable.
Gravatar # re: Free tools versus paid tools.
by Kyralessa at 2/3/2011 2:27 AM

Well, since you ask, I will tell you. It's because Red Gate said, at the time they acquired it, that they'd keep a free version. Go back and look. Check Google, around August 2008. You'll find that promise all over the place.

The outrage isn't over the price. The outrage is over the breach of trust. Now they say the next version, the $35 version, will be a "perpetual license". What does that mean? It might sound like it means "free upgrades forever", but all it really means is what every other piece of software does: You buy this version, you can keep it; you upgrade to the next version, you pay. The only difference is that the software is no longer time-bombed.

And for how long? Given that Red Gate has switched from "There'll always be a free version" to "Uh, no, we never promised that", how long till they decide to re-time-bomb it again?

Furthermore, I'm not aware of anything Red Gate has done to the core software to add value. In two and a half years, they haven't added a single essential feature to the basic version of Reflector. At most, they've upgraded it to work with recent versions of .NET. Other than that, not one iota of added value. So what is the $35 for? What makes the software better than when Lutz Roeder offered it for free?
Gravatar # re: Free tools versus paid tools.
by René Kuss at 2/3/2011 8:18 AM

Hi,

i think you're right. It's very nice if there are free tools that can make your life easiert. But hey, we use this tools to do our job and earn money. So why not pay for really good tools. A carpenter would not ask for a free planer ^^. I'm very sad about the opinions of some companies that make a lot of money with software development. If their developers ask for a commercial tool many managers a very frightened. Crazy it world...
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