Just a few thoughts. I wrote and maintain a molecular biological application
and originally distributed it as shareware, mainly because people
told me that no one would use a program that cost nothing, thinking that
it was worth nothing. That program turned out to be worth quite a bit
in terms of my time, which was far more valuable (in retrospect) than
the few thousand dollars that I earned.
I now distribute that program absolutely free and I no longer feel
that I am working for registered users but rather that I am sharing
my personally developed tools with friends and colleagues. This has
the beneficial side-effect that I don't feel quite so guilty about delays
in fixing reported bugs-unless, of course, they bug me during the
course of my own work. Besides, I really hated going
through my monthly ritual of buying, copying, labelling and mailing diskettes,
each with a personalized letter of thanks. So there's an example
that is contrary to the main thrust of this thread so far.
However, let us not forget that the computer business is no
more or less greedier than any other business. In defense, we, as consumers,
can still vote with our feet. If you think a program package is
too expensive then do not buy it. Especially if you aren't impressed
after trying a demo.
Whenever I see an appropriate application "advertised" with
a quiet little note here on bionet I usually waste little time in getting a
copy, at least to try it out and --I'll be frank here--see if there are any
interesting ideas to be borrowed for my own software.
Alternatively, I usually avoid those big polished commercial packages
unless there *is* no alternative.
I might add, that I actually have one or two of those big packages
from "GigaCorp"--you know the ones with glossy ads on the back of Science--
and have seldom found them superior to material available at IUBIO and
other fine repositories. In fact, I never even use them anymore.
A previous post in this thread reminds me of a humerous/pathetic
incident that I experienced. A company was interested in distributing
my abovementioned mol. bio. application and, in addition to wanting to
put on a major price tag and cessation of shareware distribution,
they wanted me to include an elaborate copy protection scheme.
They were worried that someone would "steal" the software and "rob" them
of their hard-earned profits. Everyone else there had computers that
were fully laden with software -- everything from the sublime
(WordPerfect) to the absurd (QuickBasic :-) , as it were--all courtesy
of their respective employers (one of which was the
Canadian Government). As I looked around the table I asked, "Will anyone
here who has ever purchased any software of *any* kind please
raise their hand?". Mine was the only hand raised. And these guys were
worried that they'd be ripped off by some starving grad. student just
trying to analyze his data?