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Mike Kreuzer

What price software?

November 16, 2013

I've been thinking about the price of software lately.

"Apple is reinforcing the perception that incredibly deep apps, apps that in some cases have been three or four years in the making, “should be” free. Why does your app cost even $1 if the cost of an entire office suite, running on both my Mac and iOS devices, is free of charge?"

That quote from a post by John Gruber over at Daring Fireball has been rattling around in my head for much of this last month.

Gruber's also written about Apple (who make their money out of hardware) and Google (who make their money out of services) squeezing Microsoft by giving away software for free.

The app store's role in driving down the price of software has been thrashed through by greater writers than me too. (And by many worse ones.) Not just in terms of 99 cent apps, but (and this observation from John Birmingham) because of the way demos work on on the app store.

"I think it runs deeper than that, finding a genesis in the structure of Apple's online store, which doesn’t allow developers to offer a trial period. I don't know why the fruit company insists on this policy, but one of the unintended consequences has been to create the freemium economy - where the vast majority of ‘customers’ aren’t willing to pay for a damned thing. Not up front anyway."

A third part of the software price puzzle that's also been mentioned in passing around the dustier corners of the internet is the free & open source software movement. Information wants to be free, free as in beer, all of that. Programmers though, programmers want to eat. This one does any way, more so than most.

I like open source and support it at the same time as I'm trying to make a living out of making & selling commercial, closed source software. That apparent paradox is not one I've fully picked apart, other than to think about it in terms of my writing this blog.

By giving away the writing on this blog for free I'm posing no threat at all to people who get paid to scribble. Awesome as this blog is. Likewise, people giving their software away for free (and that occasionally includes me) are no threat to people charging money for their wares (again including me, so far I've been lucky that way).

How much do each of the corporate wars, the peculiarities of the app store and the open source movement contribute to the falling price of software? I suspect the first two do a lot more than the third, open source was around during the heyday of expensive software after all.

Does that mean open source software's not as good as "real software"? No, not at all. Not as tailored to a mass audience certainly, open source software is a specialist product for a more discerning crowd. I'm always surprised when some of its advocates periodically get a rush of blood to the head and start talking about taking over the desktop. Or at least they used to, back when desktops were still a thing. But that's another story.

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