On Compensation for “Free Stuff”

I should preface this post by saying I am not, in any real way, an open source developer. I feel no compulsion to distribute the source of my work for others to modify and distribute on their own without proper monetary compensation. In fact I am revolted by anyone who suggests that I have a moral obligation to do so. This is the talk of looters who wish to steal the works of others for their own purposes without the producers consent. However, my feelings on the politics of GNU style open source are well known and not the purpose of this post.

However, I do use several open source products which I assume are developed by people whose desired type of compensation are different than my own. I use WordPress for this blog as well as several plug-ins and tools to support it. Today, Dr. Dave, the creator of the Spam Karma comment spam blocking plug-in (a most excellent product), decided to quit development of this tool because of the mounting complaints about the “stability” of his plug-in in relation to the “alpha” versions of the WordPress engine. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a page long rant on Asymtomatic.com about issues he had with the recent releases of the Spam Karma plug-in.

I can say that I had a couple of issues in installing this plug-in, however, they were entirely due to my ignorance on folder permissions and were resolved with a tiny amount of research on these issues. At no time did I feel anger or resentment at the developer. He developed a product that would have taken me weeks for me to develop on my own and distributed it without charge because he thought it was cool enough for other bloggers to try out. I would have never thought to expect free support from him. At most, I would have dropped him an email letting him know about an issue that I couldn’t resolve only after I had exhausted all of my albeit limited knowledge. However, to self-righteously expect a bug-free product for which you have offered no compensation strikes me as the vilest sort of arrogance. If you can’t get the product to work, then develop your own, pay the developer for a support contract or shut the hell up.

I wouldn’t have posted about this except I noticed another egregious example of this behavior with another free product, although one that is not open source. The w.bloggar tool allows you to post to your blog from a Windows application. It is developed by an enterprising fellow named Marcelo from Brazil. Like Dr.Dave, he develops this app because he thinks it’s cool and wants others to get a chance to use his product. However, he’s also a very busy fellow and doesn’t get a whole lot of time to work on the product. After a long period of silence, he announced that he was still working on a new version of the product to which he got several condescending comments like this one:

Just a suggestion…
When you cannot work on a new version fast enough, you should at least give workarounds to make previous versions usable.

[Via wbloggar.com]

Where do you get off demanding that someone else work on a product that you haven’t paid for? I gave the guy a donation for the product because I used and liked it. However, because it was a donation and not a purchase, I would never demand that he get to work on the latest version. What gall!

These developers work on these products in exchange of the goodwill of those who use them. Their compensation comes from the numbers of users who use the product. If they don’t develop a good product, then don’t use it. But don’t complain about their inability to develop a good product. You have given nothing. You have provided nothing. All you have done is to consume their product for no cost on your side.

If anything, this has confirmed my distrust of the open-source consumer and hardened my resolved to remain a greedy, capitalistic and selfish software developer who demands money for my time.

Not that I have any strong opinions on the subject . . .

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4 responses to “On Compensation for “Free Stuff””

  1. Yeah, except that Dr.Dave built his code on the original code provided by the author of the rant – me. Note my copyright in the comments of the Spam Karma code. So your whole “put up or shut up” concept, and basically most of what you’ve written here, is somewhat void.

  2. Actually no it isn’t. You are still complaining about work done by someone else that was offered to you free of charge. The fact is that, while you developed the initial product, you didn’t consider your code worthy of continuing maintenance. But someone else did and you allowed them to pick up where you left off. However, your initial development doesn’t give you a “right to complain” in perpetuity. I know that you are building a new product that you may or may not release (that is your choice). However, this doesn’t give you any justification to complain about someone else’s “free” work. I think the major complaint I have is that you are willing to so offhandedly dismiss and criticize someone else’s work that you didn’t pay for. That which is free is either to be accepted or declined graciously. It is not there to be a point of ridicule from the recipient.

  3. Very much agreed! SK may not work exactly the way I want it to, but it’s a lot better than the nothing that I paid for it! You won’t catch me complaining.

    As for myself, I’ve given away a few of my hacks unlicensed and uncopyrighted, simply because I have no intention of putting more resources into developing or supporting them unless it pleases me. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing one’s ideas proliferate that I wouldn’t experience if I tried to charge for my work.

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