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The Myth of Freeware

Week of October 1, 2000

'The best things in life are free.'
'There is no such thing as a free lunch.'

Many a surfing software junkie will readily come to the conclusion that the best applications available on the Internet are the free ones; and anyone can see that there are hundreds of thousands, most likely millions of applications out there that do not directly dent your pocketbook; but the idea that something, even software, can be free is an idea that must be halted in its tracks. For nothing in this world, and certainly not software, is 'free'.

Adware Is Not Freeware

There are more caveat emptors in the freeware market than ever before, and certainly one of the most dangerous is the adware application. Now that the Aureate scandal has blown over things would seem to have reached a calm, but in this calm adware is proliferating.

Given only two options - to pay or to be spied upon - anyone with a modicum of brains would choose the former. A double sawbuck is a small price to pay for a restful night's sleep.

Yet most computer users even today, thanks to old Bully Bill, are so inept when it comes to managing their own personal computer world and their Internet connection that they have no clue what is going on.

A correlate of this is the amazingly cheap personal computer hardware itself. Driving prices closer and closer to the ultimate come on, the zero price initiative, OEMs are being seduced by scheming ISVs who want tracking devices installed along with their software on all machines leaving the factory. Information is money, as they say, and this kind of information is priceless.

Even Free Freeware Is Not Free

Any product of labour, whether it be a painting hung in a gallery or a computer program, represents work and time expended. And more than ever before, time represents money in our IT society. Someone had to take time off from another lucrative endeavour to complete the product. The product has a value, and it therefore is by definition 'not free'.

But completing a product is only half, if that, of the battle: the remainder, the greater half, is getting it 'out there' and supporting it.

It is radsoft.net's consistent experience over the years the XPT has been distributed in all its forms that the 'freeware' customer is by far the highest maintenance, and the truly 'paying' customer by far the lowest.

Our price tag has over the years 'separated the wheat from the chaff', as a good friend in Belgium advised us years ago when we were trying to tread water and breathe with over 10,000 email letters a week. It does help offset the cost of production, distribution and support, but it also reduces the time consuming and therefore expensive 'headaches' to the infinitesimal.

Support costs. Ignorant freebie junkies who will download absolutely anything and never bother reading documentation but instead fire off a fusillade of nasty letters to an ISV are legion: see John Walker's excellent Titanium Cranium Awards page for thousands of examples of just how lame the 'new people' on the Internet can be. And these junkies take time - and therefore cost.

Internet access - beyond the monthly ISP cost if any - is not free in most countries. People in North America assume no one pays for local telephone calls; but unfortunately many countries were ahead of the US when the WWW first began to crawl back in 1993 and quickly introduced minute rates for these local telephone calls.

radsoft.net has often been asked why a price tag has been necessary on a product which initially was to be free; and when we've taken the time to explain to those who ask, our woes are invariably dismissed: either the costs we do incur are, according to the correspondents, too insignificant to count, or the time needed (60 hours a week is not too much) insignificant as well.

But when asked if they would volunteer to finance our Internet connection, and/or do a bit of the clerical work for us so we can get back on the road and make money again, they all invariably clam up.

For all of these people - from the 13yo tag monster in Montana to the charismatic freeware site administrator in Malaysia - are freebie junkies at heart.

They expect a free lunch. They are not prepared to do anything back for anyone, are most likely incapable of it for that matter; they only want to snarf and be rude and nasty.

Take A Look Around

All around us there are ample examples of things that want to appear to be free but are not. Commercial radio and television are two prominent examples; they have their direct counterpart in the modern commercial web site.

What Price X-file?

The X-file application took approximately one and one half years to develop to maturity. The average daily workload - including Saturdays and Sundays - for this entire time was in excess of twelve hours. The average work week for these 80 weeks was 90 hours.

That represents 7,200 hours of programming labour. Considering what fees currently are on the road, that represents an investment of over one million dollars.

An Insult

There can be isolated examples of freeware that is free enough to be classified as free. Applications written by university students (who are regarded as having no intrinsic value) get put on the archives and suddenly Simtel has a thousand links to them. The famous Analog web log tool is a perfect example. Its author donates his time to the Internet.

But to assume - to demand - that software be free is to imply that the efforts of the programmer are of no value whatsoever. We already have too many trailer park surfers thinking they can write their own operating systems; now they say that the programs themselves do not represent a potential price. The software development community has already been slighted much too much by these Brave New World Redmond clones; we do not need this insult to be added to the injury already there.

The next time anyone tells you that software should be free, ask them what their profession is. Then bargain for a service from them. If they are shoemakers, suggest they repair all your shoes for free. If they work in a bookstore, suggest they give you an armful of books - or every book in the store - for free. If they work in a restaurant, ask them to provide you with three free meals a day for the entire year.

See how long it takes for them to shut up.

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