What's The Reason For Free Software?
An AskBob reader wonders: “I've used the free Libre Office suite and other freeware programs for a long time, and I think they're brilliant. But I'm still not sure why they even exist! Can you tell me why all of this good software is free, and what is the motivation for those who create it?” Read on for my answer to this interesting question...
Free Software: Where Does It Come From?
You've asked a good question, which for me brings to mind an old cliche: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." But when it comes to free software, it does seem to defy this maxim, at least in many cases. If you've been an AskBob subscriber for a while, you've learned that there are some excellent free programs that rival the quality and features found in expensive commercial software. My article Still Using Microsoft Office… Why? talks about Libre Office, and some others.
So why do people spend their time creating free software, and making it available to the world, via the Internet? Presumably, they could create this software, sell it, and have a few extra dollars in their pocket. But it turns out there are some very good reasons to "give away the store" when it comes to software.
Some freeware is created by passionate people who just love computer programming, and believe that software should be free. Linus Torvalds, and a small army of volunteer programmers have spent the past thirty years creating the Linux operating system, and tons of applications to go along with it. The Free Software Foundation promotes the notion that not only should software be free of charge, but the source code should also be freely available ("open source") so others can study it, learn from it, and improve upon it.
Linux in its many forms is a now bonafide alternative to running Microsoft Windows, and those who choose this route can save many hundreds of dollars. Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distributions, if you're interested in trying it out.
A related point is that some people love to hate Microsoft, Apple, and other big software companies who create mass-market software solutions and make lots of money selling it. They have computer skills, so they develop free software to create an alternative. Maybe they feel like this is their way of "sticking it to the man" or helping to level an uneven playing field. Many of these folks would also identify themselves with the Linux and open source crowds, and would rather eat dirt than allow their computers to be "defiled" by commercial software.
For some, creating software is an enjoyable hobby, other freeware programmers may be retired, bored or altruistic. Others do it because they needed a tool to solve a particular problem, and they decided to create it themselves. For these people, sharing their work freely on the Internet, and interacting with users who appreciate their software, is all the reward they need. Others create free software in order to build credibility, perhaps for future job opportunities.
Back in the mid 1980s, Jim Knopf (aka Jim Button) and a few others pioneered the shareware concept. He developed a database program called PC-File, and distributed it by mail on floppy disks, asking for a voluntary payment of $25 if users liked the program. Within a few years, he had built a multi-million dollar company, before the Internet was widely used.
No Strings Attached...
The principle of reciprocity is a strong motivator in humans. Some software developers hope you'll like what you see, and buy their paid version with extra bells and whistles. Or maybe it's a "loss leader" which gives them the opportunity to introduce you to other commercial products. If you've used a free program, and found it to be very useful, you are understandably more likely to purchase a related product from the same vendor, or perhaps make a small donation to support the work of the author.
A good example of this is IrfanView, the popular graphics editor. It was created by Irfan Skiljan, an programmer from Austria, and the program is free for personal non-commercial use. The author asks that commercial users register and make a donation of 10 Euro (about US$11.65), and he also accepts donations from grateful users who wish to support the project. If you're into audio editing, check out the free Audacity software, which is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
There are also many excellent free antivirus programs, such as Avast, that are used by millions of people worldwide. Each of these software vendors offers a paid version that offers extra features and support options. But there is no requirement to upgrade, like you see with some "30-day free trial" software packages. I applaud this model, because it allows people to get software they need, and pay only if they decide to upgrade.
Are you a user or developer of free software? Feel free to post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Oct 2021
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- What's The Reason For Free Software? (Posted: 19 Oct 2021)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved