For many years I have been asking free software fanatics – how will you make money if your software will be taken (legaly) for free by your competitors? Sadly the best answer I ever got was “you’ll make money from support and other services”. Which is good when you can get it; but you can sell support and services for proprietary software just as well – so by open sourcing your software you, as a business, don’t have anything to gain and have somethiing (perhaps a lot) to lose. (There are a handful of exceptions, but I’m talking about the majority in the market today.)
Earlier I finished watching Steal This Film II. It was actually a lot better than I expected. I expected a bunch of propaganda about how the MPAA is suing 12-year-old girls. It’s far from being balanced, they don’t even bother talking about how today’s industry is supposed to deal with it but they kept hammering on this point – it is the way it is, you can’t do a damned thing about it.
Now, I am not well known for this, but I do pay attention when someone has something worthwhile to say. And it suddenly dawned on me: if people don’t pay for music, movies, or software these days, a discussion about whether it’s moral, ethical, or legal belongs in academia. It doesn’t really matter whether copying software for free on a large scale is the right thing to do. What matters is that there is no demand in the market for software priced so that the creator gets a return on investment.
This is rather ground-shattering for me. I always believed that in capitalism one who makes a good product deserves (both morally and legally) to get a reward. As opposed to communism, where one does as much as he can and gets as much as he needs.
Though my understanding of capitalism hasn’t changed, I realised that there is a strong factor affecting the marketability of software that isn’t written in any book I’ve read and isn’t talked about very much. That is – if people can steal it without getting caught, they will.
What conclusion to draw from this? I could do many. But since I’m a pessimist, I will temporarily give up on writing general-purpose applications. Things may change in the long run and maybe not. But for now, for better or worse, it’s not financially feasible. Luckily for me, I still have options in my career.