Subject: Re: Open Source shareware?
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <ben_tilly@operamail.com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 22:31:25 +0500

Rich Morin <rdm@cfcl.com> wrote:

> I am considering releasing some small Perl applications as Open Source
> Shareware.  I haven't decided which Open Source License I want to use,
> but that isn't what I'm asking about.
>
> Rather, I'd like to know what youall think about the compatibility of
> the "Open Source" and "Shareware" memes.  Certainly, the Open Source
> approach limits my ability to create "nuisanceware"; if my banner ads
> (or whatever) get too annoying, the user can simply disable them!  A
> similar argument applies against most forms of "crippleware".  In short,
> the mechanisms that many shareware authors use to cajole or harass the
> user into subscribing may not be particularly applicable.

It will limit them, but maybe by less than you might think.  If your
software is aimed at non-technical users, and includes both help and
comments in code asking for the nags to not be disabled, then I think
that most users won't disable them.  The target audience will not, of
course, generally figure out how to.  And I don't see people changing
them for themselves and friends as being a worse problem than people
sharing keys.

What would be different is that some unscrupulous people may be tempted
to modify the nags to point users at them rather than you.  So GPL it
and plan that most slimeballs who do things like that are stupid enough
to try and hide what they are doing by not sharing source-code, giving
you a clear copyright violation to threaten them with.

> This leaves me with (a) linking certain forms of support to subscription
> and (b) relying on the "honor" system.  The former may be applicable to
> some software, depending on how much support it needs.  I don't have too
> much faith in the latter, as applied to the *BSD and Linux communities;
> only a few projects (e.g., The GNU Project and the Perl Foundation) have
> ever received much in the way of donations and neither has received more
> than a tiny fraction of what they deserve (IMHO).

Careful with the first one, else people may only bother subscribing when
they have a specific problem that they need support on!  (IIRC Russell
Nelson had that happen to him with DOS packet drivers.)  One way to
avoid that is to say that you are willing to get bug reports from
anyone, here are your consulting rates, and subscription will give you
something immediately (eg put them on a mailing list for important
announcements related to your software) with support only coming if you
have stayed subscribed for at least 2 months.

Another model to consider is having a timed strategy like Aladdin does
where you open source after a delay.  So current versions are shareware,
and eventually everything will be open sourced.  Which gives them
mindshare.

> Fortunately, the market I have in mind (Mac OS X users) has a history of
> being open to the idea of paying for software.  And, if I don't _force_
> them to look at my source code, they probably won't mind that it's
> available (:-).

Heh.

Like Windows users you do them a favour in charging them, else they get
confused? :-)

> Finally, I'd like to know of any existence proofs of the success or failure
> of this approach.

Well ID Software has GPLed a number of games that were once shareware.
I am not sure that this was done as a business strategy though.

Cheers,
Ben

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