Monday, September 26, 2005

Guinterface Software And The GPL

Guinterface Software recently decided that we were going to publish 2 of our commercial product under some kind of "Free" license. The reasons for this decision are numerous but boil down to the fact that we simply don't have time to support products that have generated 2 invoices in the last 6 months. That being said we don't want to screw customers and we also do not want to "waste" 3+ years of development by throwing the products out.

This led to a decision to shop for a Free license to publish these products under. We still wanted the option to sell the products at some future date or license their technology. This meant a dual license was in order. What to make the "open source" license though. The first license to come to mind was the venerable GPL.

I love using GPL and other "free" programs. I use several of them to generate my daily output of work. That being said, I'll tell you a horrible little secret, I don't pay for any of them as a rule. Nope, no clicking on the ubiquitous PayPal button for me. Why is this you might ask. Well, the answer like so many things in my life is complicated. In the main however it boils down to the fact that I got my start in the IT world in a small business.

The small IT shop is definitely its own animal. Often they run without a budget (in other words, stealing liberally from other departmental budgets). In the company I worked for the IT budget was basically our salaries plus whatever we could beg, borrow or steal. Now, I think a large portion of businesses are not to dissimiliar to this model.

This begs the question, if we release these 2 products as a "free" program how do we make money. Richard Stallman's answer seems to be what I call SSS, "Sell Support Stupid". I personally think this a crock (no offense to Richard who I think is a beautiful person with everyone's best interests in mind). The problem is, Richard does not live in the real world. He grew up in and is immersed in a world that begins and ends in academia. Richard, while espousing that we give our software away for free and coming down on commercial software, has no problems taking money from corporations to maintain his lifestyle.

The fact is, most GPL products make their owners next to no money. There are always exceptions. I am not talking about these however. I am discussing the rule. The other fact is "People Need Money To Eat."

I know this will come as a shock to people ... I need to eat. That and the fact that I know myself (the fact that I never pay even indirectly for GPLd products) lead me to one conclusion. The GPL is not for me. I think it has its place, but in the main I don't believe its place belongs with a small group (or one) coder who wants to make a living. Once again, there are copious exceptions but I'm a realist. I need food and shelter for me and my wife to live.

We still have not come up with a solution to the dillemna of releasing the software and still making a living. Perhaps a dual license is in order, perhaps not. It all depends on what the end goal will eventually be. Stay tuned, I'm sure I'll let you know ;-).

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