The Powerbase: There’s been a lot of talk lately about how hard it is to make money with an open source project, but it seems like you’ve managed to pull it off. What would your message be to developers who are looking to earn money off of their open source project? Is Fairware the answer?
Virgil: Of course, it always depends on the type of software being developed. If it targets businesses, I’m not sure if Fairware could work well. If it only has 3 users, it’s not gonna work either. But for wide audience apps (typically distributed as shareware), I’d be inclined to say that Fairware is one of the most efficient way to go, yes.
The Powerbase: How can developers get started with releasing their own software as Fairware? Are there any special considerations or pitfalls they should be aware of?
Virgil: Fairware websites (where all hours and contribution informations are published) and reminders are not trivial to set up, so if you want to adopt Fairware, you’re in for a several hours of work. The code for the Fairware website is open source and hosted at https://bitbucket.org/hsoft/openhs. Contact me if you want to do that, I’ll help you get set up.
The only trap I can think of, I didn’t fall in and it concerns the release of intellectual property. If your move to Fairware is one from closed source, there is a risk that someone simply forks your code, changes the name and becomes your competitor. That’s an incredibly dickish move, but it’s possible and it could indeed hurt your bottom line.
I’d recommend opening closed source only if your app already has a strong brand recognition (google rankings and stuff). This way, even if someone forks your code and competes with you, he will have to make significant investments to surpass your brand recognition.
The Powerbase: As a developer who has made the successful leap from closed to open source, what message would you have for other developers who are considering opening up their source?
Virgil: When coming from the closed source world, we tend to see our code as precious intellectual property and we fear that it is stolen from us. At the individual level, it makes sense, but at a macro level, it’s counter-productive. We have to recognize that open source makes software development more efficient and we have to work towards expanding it. One of the main roadblock, as we know, is the problem of individual remuneration for work invested in open source software.
With a little collective effort (and leap of faith), we can break that pre-conception that “open source” means “free stuff”, expand open source’s presence and thus make the world a better place.
While Virgil’s Fairware concept might not work for all open source projects, it’s a very interesting take on the subject and is something developers should consider when looking to monetize open source software. The Powerbase wishes Virgil continued success with his suite of open source programs, and hope other developers take up his challenge of implementing their own Fairware systems.