Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What does "Free" software cost?

What does "Free" software cost?

My poor mother is probably rolling in her grave that I chose one of the only professions on the face of the planet where most people believe that the fruit of my labors should be free.

Case in point, my own attitudes when installing apps on my iPad or Android phone... with very few exceptions I only install apps that are "free".  If I really like an app, like Craigslist Mobile, then I will cough up 99 cents for the "pro" version - but that's the exception rather than the rule.

In contrast, I will happily pony up much more than that for any number of gadgets that connect to my iPad or phone.  I plunked down $39 for a zippered case and $19 for a power adapter just the other day without even thinking about it.

Physical gadgets cost money - Software gadgets are free.

I blame hardware manufacturers for this sorry state of affairs.  Software was something provided for free to get you to buy hardware in the early days - and then it became something that was provided for free to keep your hardware platform from being made irrelevant...

I also blame programmers for this sorry state of affairs.  Software should be Open Source - which means I don't have to pay to use it in my own products.

So much for blaming others for my own bad behavior - Software is supposed to be free and I just need to stop grousing about it.

But wait... Software is free (to me), but it's incredibly expensive to write, and if it's cloud-based it's incredibly expensive to host.  Who pays for it?

Interesting question... but increasingly the answer is "People who want to sell you things".

No surprise there... Those are the same people who pay for the production of TV shows.  Advertising revenue is the grease that primes the pump.

But wait... What are the advertisers paying for?

On Free TV advertisers are paying for air time, plain and simple.  They are paying to broadcast a message to whomever happens to have their set on at a specific time.  Annoying but otherwise harmless.

On Free Software advertisers are paying for targeted ads.  They are paying to have their ads aired to users that fit specific profiles.  That's a better deal for them - they don't waste time advertising to folks who aren't likely to respond.

Sounds harmless... but wait...  How are they targeting me?

Ads are targeting by prying into your private affairs.  They watch what you watch, they snitch your list of contacts, and they snoop on whatever they can get to on your workstations and online data stores.  That's how they learn enough about you to send you targeted ads.

So now we have an answer to the question I started with...

What does "Free" software cost? - Your privacy.

I'm not going to judge whether "Free" is worth it or not, that's up to each individual, but I am going to assert that it's very important that everybody who uses "Free" software should understand this.  Understand what's paying for that "Free" software before you use it, and you won't get disappointed or jaded down the road.  It's really just a simple economic equation that you need to understand - and with that knowledge you'll be fine.

So with that in mind - head on over to Facebook and vote on their new privacy policies.  It's your way of helping them understand what you're willing to pay for "Free" software, and it will make both of you happier.

Update: Too late, the results are in.
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