There's some bantering back and forth about whether or not the availability of quality open source software will diminsh the value of all software, as people will come to expect all software to be free. Dave's concern is that people who create software won't be able to make money doing so. I think this is hogwash, this is a country in which people pay $1.00 for 20 oz. of water when it's available freely from the drinking fountain 20 feet away. I watched a girl buy some from the vending machine downstairs just an hour ago. Why did she buy water, when perfectly a perfectly suitable combination of hydrogen and oxygen was available for free nearby? Because it was more convenient, it came in a nice container, or she perceived it as being of higher quality & value than the free software. In a country where people will spend money on water, certainly there are enough people who will continue to buy pre-recorded movies or music, or name-brand software to enable those involved in the creation of them to continue to make a living. Music companies, movie studios, and software vendors need to focus more on providing value in the versions that they sell, rather than concentrate on the people who are just after the freebies. I watched a little flash animation story from the BSA the other day. It's about the evils of software piracy, and it touts the warranties and support you get with commercial software as being the two best reasons to buy it. What a load of horseshit. As someone who does technical support for a living, I can tell you that the technical support and warranties provided by most software vendors are worthless. And, I wish I could have back the hours I've spent on hold waiting for a tech support person to answer my questions. The time I bought Roxio's Easy CD Creator springs to mind, 45 minutes on hold for a non-toll-free number, because of an obvious flaw in their software that should would have been caught be even rudimentary quality assurance, is that the quality I'm paying for? Many, if not most, of the software vendors want to bill your credit card per question. Documentation is poorly written or obsolete, and the product itself often ships with glaring bugs. Hmm, so I can get buggy software with poor support for my hard-earned dollars, or I can get buggy software with poor support for free? I think I'll take the free stuff, but I'd gladly pay for the quality software and support. Here's a simple example of bad support: If the search engine for your web site is soooo bad that I have to use Google instead, your support sucks. Adobe, Microsoft, I'm looking at you.
Take AmphetaDesk as an example of quality software. It's utterly free, but I still sent the author a book off his Amazon wish list as a way of saying thanks. I use the software everyday, and $13 out of my pocket was a bargain for it. I also donated money to the Trillian project two years ago, when doing so gained me absolutely nothing, but as a result of my donation (and countless others) the team was able to continue working long enough to produce an even better version that I use all day every day. The software was of value to me, and I paid for it, even though I wasn't required to do so. Neither Amphetadesk or Trillian will be having an IPO anytime soon, nor will they become the next Microsoft, but they make quality software products that are worth money.
Here's what it boils down to, if the software and services you produce don't add up to the difference in value between free and bottled water, your company doesn't deserve to survive.
If the music industry wants my money, here's what they need to do. I want an online/kiosk service where I can choose from every song ever recorded, arrange them in the order I'd like them to appear on my CD, and pay 25-50 cents per track. The CD would either be burned on the spot at the kiosk, or delivered to me in the mail at home, complete with liner notes with all the lyrics for each song, and the option of including MPEGs of the applicable music videos so that I could watch them on my computer. There is not a single technological reason today why this couldn't be done, and I think most people would agree that it's a pretty reasonable business model. Heck, go one step farther, and make it a dollar per track, but I'm licensed to use that track for my entire lifetime, in whatever current music format is popular, that way I don't have to re-buy the song for my 8-track, cassette, LP and MP3 players. Let's also do away with the traditional album format of 3-4 good songs, and 10 songs of crap, let me mix and burn my own music without the need of my own PC, and give me something (liner notes, lyrics, videos, & cover art) that I can't easily produce on my own. And, while we're on the subject, why does a CD cost more than a cassette, though cassettes cost more for the record labels to produce? And why does a CD with one hour of audio (which cost thousands of dollars to produce) cost as much as a DVD, filled with several hours of video AND audio that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce? If the record companies and artists can't make a profit at the price I'm proposing, then they deserve to fail.