Marcel Schramm

Why do people expect software to be for free?

Written on 15 November 2018 by Marcel Schramm

Recently I have been wondering why everyone seems to expect software to be free. Free software has existed for quite a while, but many people have started to expect software to be free by default.

I assume that many people think that the software they use in their daily life is already free. Let's take Facebook as an example. Do you think Facebook is free? Yes, it is free to use, however, this doesn't mean that you aren't paying in a way. When using Facebook you are paying with your personal data and you are probably seeing ads, unless you are using an ad-blocker. By the way, even some ad-blockers aren't completely free, some actually mine data or only block ads that they aren't paid for. The same goes for other free-to-use software that you use.

In case you are interested in using an ad-blocker, I suggest you take a look at UBlock Origin.

Okay, so what do we pay for? We pay for games, right? Buying a AAA game for 60€ still seems to be accepted by most gamers. However, would they buy a 5€ game for their smartphone? Unlikely. I have noticed that many people seem to expect smartphone apps to be free (subsidized by ads) or extremly cheap. Why do many people deem 5€ for a smartphone application to be much? I assume this is due to the fact that smartphone apps feel more like a "side thing" that you just use in order to keep the boredom away. There are also apps that don't focus on entertainment. As far as I know, those kind of apps are less used by the average smartphone user though.

Do I pay for mobile applications? No, not really, the only app I have ever bought was Teamspeak 3 and I refunded it, since it was terrible. However, I do not like to use applications that are subsidized by advertisements, because I believe that the advertisement model is completely broken. Applications that implement an advertisement model often decrease in user experience. Either by showing popups, using up the space on your screen or even adding trash to your devices system. I generally believe the way that most advertisements are made today, is very dishonest. Whenever seeing an advertisement on the TV, I feel like I am being lied to.

In order to avoid such subsidation models, I try to use as much truly free software as possible, also referred to as free open source software. However, people should be paid for the work they do, right?

Yes, everyone should be paid for the work they do, at least I believe so. So, what can you do? I suggest you start to try using more free open source software and if you like what you are getting, drop a donation from time to time, it really helps! Some software projects are actually completely subsidized by donations, for example an operating system called Elementary OS. It has adopted the `pay what you want` model, meaning that if you want to, you can just not pay anything. The system also has a software store that allows you to optionally pay for anything that you install via the store. Such principles are viable and are being used, however, most companies still try to maximize their outcome by any chance and therefore such things will unlikely ever be adopted by big companies.

Another good payment model is the one that League of Legends is using. You can download and play the game for free, however, you can still purchase ingame items in exchange for real money. Those ingame items don't provide the player any advantages over the other players, since they are only visual items. Those items can be skins for characters or emoticons and ward-skins. League of Legends has been doing it this way for a long time now and it seems to work just fine.

EDIT: Someone just pointed out that you could also buy champions(playable characters). In the beginning you only have a specific set of characters. Until season 6 or 7 it was quite hard to get many characters in a short amount of time. At a certain point they made it much easier though.

So, what's the point of this post? I'd like to encourage you to start paying for software. I assume just like me, many of you are annoyed by advertisements, especially looking at mobile aplications and websites. If more people were to pay for software and media, then less companies would decide to start build their products around an advertisement model. I am not telling you that you have to use free open source software though, that's just my opinion. However, think about paying for what you use, because just like the machine that you use for reading this post, someone had to produce that software.

Food for thought: Why do you think that no one expects physical goods or services should be free?