Friday, April 04, 2008

Free software sucks

That's been my contention for a while, now. There are exceptions to the rule. For instance, there are very simple, commodity pieces of software that have evolved over years that do a decent job - like Apache web server. But there are myriad other pieces of free software - that is free of charge, free to use - that just suck.

Take Drupal or the myriad other free content management systems in existence. Take Firefox extensions. Or Open Office. Or Linux - which is only now making inroads into the enterprise because of the massive amounts of money that corporations have poured into it - paying for development and infrastructure. And Linux on the desktop continues to be a catastrophic failure, or worse - a never-was. The list goes on and on. They suffer in quality and lack of features because everyone who works on them is only a volunteer - they don't charge for their software - and this has included me.

Granted, most software sucks, including non-free software, but I think the best model is one in which people can do good work and be able to feed themselves - and nobody deserves to be exploited like most Silicon Valley tech workers are - working countless hours of overtime for free.

37Signals started charging for their software, and people started to think differently. Developers started to realize that an honest living was possible if they started charging for their software. And users appreciated having full-featured software that actually worked.

I don't believe that VCs are soley to blame, but they play a big part. So, on that part, Hank Williams is right.

People with money, like Mike Arrington, love VCs and the VC mentality - which is 'those with money should be able to exploit those without money' - it's the Ayn Randian view of the world. If you grow up relatively-privileged, then you should feel free to own and control everybody else - in fact, it's your moral responsibility to own, control, and exploit as many people and things as possible. So, to Arrington and Objectivists everywhere, the free software model is great.

I'm not suggesting that we should do away with good will and charity and the like - just the opposite. By charging a fee for your software, non-profits and non-commercial users can get the quality software they deserve, and they don't have to spend their limited resources - time and money - fixing crappy software. And commercial users can get quality software, too. And you can build great software and still be able to eat. Everybody wins.

...bounties are a good idea. i rediscovered Express Engine yet again. there were a few things that kept me from buying in the past, but i'm def going to check it out this time. thankfully, it's not free. :D


Anonymous said...

A short list of free software that doesn't suck:

Sorry...but with so many counter-examples, your thesis doesn't hold too much weight. Going to have to disagree with you here.

Kakariki said...

What really bothers me is when I find a piece of software, use the trial version and think it's great. So I think 'I reckon I'll buy the full version and support these cool people'. And then it's stupidly expensive! Like, more expensive than a similar version I could walk down the road and buy in a shop, where most of the money I would fork over wouldn't end up in the hands of the developers.

It bugs me.

One piece of software in particular I would love to buy so I can access more functionality is US$60 which is not much really. But it's only a piece of hobby software and way too much for an unemployed housewife. Who would be the major market for this particular one.

I know there's a constant conversation in the handmade market about pricing and keeping each other honest. And educating our market on the costs of making such things. Does that conversation happen in the nerd world? Or is it all just free utopian land?

Sasha Chedygov said...

I wouldn't go as far to say free software sucks, but you're right, I'd rather buy working, bug-free software than free, buggy software. I think it's because developers have a lot more motivation to work hard when they are being paid.

AndresVia said...

@sasha ... and some developers found programming free software more motivating that their paid jobs.

Anonymous said...

Although I use a lot of open source, I've always thought the idea of working on a real product in spare time to be ridiculous. I can't believe it's become the norm for people to stress themselves out working during the day and then continue that stress into the night. Where's the balance? Are people predestined to enslave themselves?

I've heard people do something they hate during the day and then work on open source at night because they love it. That's a sick dichotomy. The concept of being passionate about your work and being paid for your work should be be mutually exclusive. You should do what you love all the time, and if someone's bothering you about that then you should challenge that person all the time.

Xandrani said...

To a large extent I agree with you. I recently started using NetBeans... however the quality just isn't there.

Today I spent 3 hours out of 10 fire-fighting it's flakiness. So that's 30% downtime!!!!!!!!!!!

So the amount of time NetBeans saves in regard to Java development it then totally throws away, so in conclusion using it is a waste of time.

Also the attitude of people working for free is they are often doing it for "other reasons"... which most of the time is a big ego-trip, even if it's a subtle ego-trip where they can't see it.

I find that a large amount of the geek developers have a bad attitude in regard to quality. They are more interested hacking out code than creating quality software (i.e. a good user interface with decent functionality).

These geeks do great things, i.e. Linux has really great security... but sadly it's UI is rubbish. NetBeans is really "clever" but it's just unproductive.

In conclusion the developers are often more concerned about being "clever" than being good designer.

A really clever design however is one which is intuitive to use. A toothbrush designed by a geek would use a laser to kill the bacteria in your mouth... i.e. it would probably work and be really "clever" but how about a usable toothbrush... you hopefully get my point.

Apache is ONE example where my theory doesn't hold up, and almost Firefox... although the developers of Firefox have an immensely bad attitude (not all of them but most).

In short it's cheaper paying for software in the long run.

It's like when people say Mac's are expensive... however they are MUCH MUCH cheaper in the long run compared to the downtime of Windows. They have the best of both worlds Unix underneath the hood for amazing security, and the world's best user interface on top. People who use PCs by choice (except for gamers as I have to admit PC's are far superior for games) don't have a clue about good design or productivity.

Not sure if I've said enough controversial stuff there ;)

Anonymous said...

I haven't found any evidence to support your theory that free software sucks. In fact exactly the opposite. But I do believe that all software sucks, at least most of it.

Working in an free software project is an excellent way to showcase your enthusiasm, abilities and team work. It's one of the most effective CV boosters you can count on, whether if you're looking to get hired or to land some freelance contract.

There are many successful business models around free software, or Red Hat and its employees wouldn't be making money, as well as many other companies.

Free software is not "starving programmer software", but a culture. Free software developers are not looking to be poor, but are shunning intellectual property on ethical grounds.

I guess you didn't get it or you just don't care, and that's fine.

I found that free software in general tend to be of better quality than alternatives, and rarely suffers from feature creep. I guess you also didn't get the quality vs quantity thing.

I understand your concern over starving programmers, but it just isn't happening.