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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2008-07-09 20:47:24

If I were to title a blog post "The cost of free", what would the post say? The commenter with the closest answer gets 2.718 bajillion points*. Offer void where prohibited by law. Limit of 5 entries per commenter. Skill-testing question may be required in order to claim prize.

* Points are redeemable for chunks of code, parkour skills, hugs, or chocolate.

Posted by Varun at 2008-07-09 22:07:14
1. Bandwidth.
2. Innovation.

I didn't know you were a traceur. I am... duly impressed sir. Coder by day, traceur by night. Any other skills we should know about? :)
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Posted by stak at 2008-07-10 08:02:40
Other skills shall be revealed as and when I deem appropriate :)
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Posted by Varun at 2008-07-10 19:43:33
3. Adoption - people see a $0 tag on FOSS and say "it's free, must be a piece of crap."
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Posted by Zain at 2008-07-09 22:49:58
Hugs?
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Posted by stak at 2008-07-10 08:02:17
You know you want it!
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Posted by rohan at 2008-07-09 23:40:22
too bad such contests are prohibited here in quebec.
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Posted by stak at 2008-07-10 08:03:14
Nah, you just have to fill out extra tax forms or something. Besides, you're practically an Ontario resident now anyway.
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Posted by Jen at 2008-07-10 07:51:41
Spam
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Posted by Bill at 2008-07-10 22:12:31
the time cost of feww software
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Posted by Bill at 2008-07-10 22:14:11
s/feww/free/
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Posted by Fai at 2008-07-13 02:44:22
no fitness heuristic
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Posted by Dave at 2008-07-14 22:11:21
The cost of Free (as in choice or beer) is generally that there is no backing force. There's nothing propelling the product or service forward. That costs the product both viability for major market consumption, quality as a whole.

I disagree with the above poster.
It's not the 0$ price tag that makes it seem like crap, it's generally the support level for it that makes it crap. Or usability. or security. Or hardware incompatibility. People don't want to have to learn how to close applications via a command line. Nor do they want to have to troll forums to find out why their network card isn't working. There's no perfect piece of software but free tends to imply not crap, but something that someone cooked up in their basement and "it worked on my machine" syndrome takes place.

I was going to rant about linux here for a bit but I'll avoid doing that. Ohh well, a little rant occured

Microsoft hasn't done it all right but they've done it very right. So has apple but they got different things right. Apple will probably catch up to these and take more market share before MS wakes up. Not super likely though as MS is quite a large company and takes forever to move.

Anyhow, back to the cost of free. Free costs control. Once it is free, it's no longer your baby. It's out in the world for all to use. It costs the original creator the right to make money from it. It costs them control over it. You might say "Well they have a license on it and get credit for it" but does that put bread on the table? You might be able to make money off support but just ask Ubuntu how that's going.

So that's the cost. That it's no longer yours. All the time and energy you put into working on a project has to be out of pure love of writing the code. For some, that's enough. I think that for many others, it's not enough
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Posted by Varun at 2008-07-15 00:54:19
I spent a good while looking through my 18,000+ Delicious bookmarks before regretfully concluding that I hadn't saved it, but there was a fascinating article done around 2005 about "The Paradox of Free". I want to say it was Joel Spolsky, but I can't find it on his site, so I must be wrong. Of course, you're looking at it from a supply-side perspective, and I from a demand-side, so naturally we're finding different explanations.

The paradox of free essentially states that a zero price tag is associated with bad quality: "it must be so bad, they can't charge any money for it!" This is pretty clear in the atom world - price decreases quickly to sell old or expiring goods; just go see your local Craigslist - chances are that you'll see plenty of free stuff, but when you look into the details you'll find that something isn't working, has holes, or stains, or something that makes it "bad". Sure, someone else might be able to make that broken item into something "not bad", but not you - which is why your assumption is it's broken. You probably do it intuitively - when something looks too good to be true, you wonder if it is a scam or what the catch is.

When people buy Windows or OS X, they expect that it's really good, since they're paying money for it, and they expect it to work. When they see a zero-cost option, people say "Oh, I like the price tag, but if they can't get any money for it, it must be crap and I'll need to do a lot to get it working!" For many people, a computer is a big box. You connect up cables and magic happens. That initial zero-cost balloons up into an infinite cost. And thus the cost of free is really infinite.

As for your other points:
*To date, the only two OSes I have used that have detected every single piece of hardware that I have are Ubuntu Linux and FreeBSD. Even Vista needs drivers for many trivial things, and fod gorbid I should have to try to make OS X run on something that was not produced by Apple. So each OS has its strengths - and its weaknesses, but as long as its the right tool for what you need to do... who cares?
*Microsoft was (and probably still is) a tremendously agile company. Though the book is itself unreadable, The Road Ahead is a fascinating story of a company consigned to history that came back from the dustbin rip-roaring. I have doubts about their willingness to throw away something as established as the Windows API, but even with this anchor, they have ways to be nimble, mainly due to their cash hoardings.

Your argument, however, sheds light on a question I've often wondered about: so many programs are free (not FOSS) on Windows, and so many programs are free on Linux, but rarely do I find free programs for the Mac. For every ten freeware programs - and really, good freeware programs that are things other than system utilities - that I see on Download Squad for Windows, I see one or two free on TUAW.
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Posted by Crypto at 2008-08-05 23:51:23
Actually some of the best pieces of software that I use on my mac are free.
Quicksilver, Transmission, Perian, Adium, Xee - Free
Stuff that I've paid for and is awesome :
VMWare Fusion, Delicious Library (I love both these things and could not live without them)

The best for me though is still Quicksilver. Quicksilver is the greatest piece of software ever written
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Posted by Varun at 2008-08-06 13:31:11
QS is indeed great - and I use that on my Mac, Launchy on Windows and GnomeDo on my Ubuntu machine. I like Adium and Perian is pretty much a necessity, but once you get away from these basics, unless you've got Fink and/or DarwinPorts installed, that's about all the free software in the Mac world.

So yeah, I agree the free stuff is really great, but there's not much of it (case in point - Libra:Windows :: Delicious Library:Mac OS).
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