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Thread: Software and Value

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    GTA Ontario Canada

    Software and Value

    I like to pose a question here today and hear your thoughts on this subject.

    Why do we have such a low value perception of software that we all want it for free yet expect it to be bug free and expect free support when we all know we get what we pay for at least to some extent when you consider our tools.

    There are always complaints about price people are prepared to pay for woodworking projects from furniture to turnings to craft work but have you ever spared a thought of this nature in regards to software.

    I want a package that when i learn it has support just as i would expect from my tool suppliers.

    I would like it to have been checked for security and quality and even in the best of companies these issues get through and then i would like to see that they fixed promptly and an update is issued. (this is not sustainable on a free basis business model)

    With not being able to determine what goes on inside the software there has to be a degree of trust of the vendor involved no? Who is the vendor on free stuff? What checks and balances have you witnessed in this regard.

    A week or so ago Ryan warned of a download of the free software Gimp that is not originated from its source potentially being a carrier of a virus or some security breech. Despite knowing this it does not seem like a deterrent to people to not use free software.

    Surely the value we get from a program like Sketchup warrants a fee for the value it offers?

    Would like to hear all thoughts possible.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    East Freeetown, Massachusetts
    I agree.

    I spend money on nice table saw and Bosch tools.

    I use premium saw blades.

    I see the cheap side of people with CNC router bits too - WHY???

    For me - I use Premium CNC router bits - not cheap.

    I have Corel, Solidworks(from work - legal), Several CAD packages that I paid for, Vectric Aspire, Silo and several other things.

    I tried some of the free stuff, and I know people that are successful with it - but I prefer the other route myself.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Escondido, CA
    With free software, I think it is very difficult to determine 'why' its free. Not all that many people are that altruistic as to spend many hours writing software and then throwing it out there as free. With SketchUp, it seems clear. They want you to buy the professional version by offering a taste of it for free.

    As many of you know, I am an Apple user and stick with Apple software as well. It is inexpensive compared to MS and of course, the support is stellar. The result? Fewer issues as a user. I don't have time to have the computer go down. It was the automatic updates by MS that drove me to the MacBook. Since then there has been only one issue in nearly 6 years. And that was my fault.

    I am pretty reluctant to add software and especially skeptical of free stuff. I'd want a clear understanding of what is in it for the vendor of the 'free' software.

    That said, I am just getting into Arduino and open source script. I can understand open source because the scripts are usually short and you are encouraged to enlarge them, modify them, etc. so others get inspired and do the same thing. However, I would not be surprised to find some open source scripts going to paid versions in the future. Maybe some already have.

    Some say the land of milk and honey; others say the land of fruits and nuts. All together my sort of heaven.

    Power is not taken. It is given. Who have you given yours to? Hmmmm?

    Carol Reed

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Austin, Texas
    Sketchup was initially a small company (4 people) that had a cheap version (a few hundred dollars) and a very expensive professional version, and relatively few users of either. Sketchup was bought by Google, who decided that the cheap version would be free, and the professional version would be closer to the cost of the previous cheap version (hundreds of dollars rather than many thousands). Different marketing approach, but apparently quite successful.

    There are some geeks (like me) who enjoy writing software, especially now that I don't have to do it for a living. Someone starts a program, and offers the sparse starter program for free. One geek improves on it as long as it continues to be free. And another and another. The Mozilla Firefox browser (one of the most widely used) is based on that. A business has been formed to distribute clean versions of the program, that only occasionally asks for small contributions. Thunderbird is the email program from Mozilla - pretty stable, but I wish a few things were different, and keep being tempted to join them to improve that program.

    The Gimp software isn't as widely used, but is in that category - maintained by some interested geeks (My specialty is imaging, and I have written my own image viewer and editor, but not fancy enough to be used by more than a few dozen people.) Gimp has a group that has web sites where you can get it safely. But other people have taken the free Gimp software and distribute copies that are not clean. Go to for stories of their troubles with imposters, and to get a clean copy of their program.

    For years CNET was a site you could trust to download clean copies of free software. No more. They try to get fancy, and download more than you asked for. I no longer trust CNET.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Independence MO
    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Keeble View Post
    I like to pose a question here today and hear your thoughts on this subject.

    Why do we have such a low value perception of software that we all want it for free yet expect it to be bug free and expect free support when we all know we get what we pay for at least to some extent when you consider our tools.
    Surely the value we get from a program like Sketchup warrants a fee for the value it offers?

    With not being able to determine what goes on inside the software there has to be a degree of trust of the vendor involved no? Who is the vendor on free stuff? What checks and balances have you witnessed in this regard.

    Would like to hear all thoughts possible.
    I rearranged your questions to try to answer them in that order.

    Who is this We first of all?
    Second, you really need to be clear on free. There is a huge difference between freeware, and free software!
    Freeware is about price.
    Free/open source, software, is about freedom to use and modify to fit ones needs. You have access to the source code and can modify it, or fix it, as you need and are capable of (or learn from).
    I am not sure where your getting free support from, as most software support that I see/experience, comes from other users (typically forums) and not from the companies that "create" or package it. I once bought a Linux Distro of Mandrake, back when they sold them, and when I was trying to use the included support from the buying it, they didn't answer me, after it being properly registered. In the last several years, most distro's I have played with, are not sold, or are not sold on a individual level, but a company level (out of the budget of a one computer user, typically).
    Not all paid support is worth it either. (can't understand the person, at cost per minute, etc)
    Some of the expecting free (price) software, IMHE, comes from the fact that when you buy a computer, typically the majority of them, come preloaded with Windows. You don't see a price for it. (those of us who don't use it, see it as a tax)
    Any software, can be infected or modified in such a way as to do harm to ones system. This is part of the nature of programing, and easier on some systems then others (security has to be designed in, not an afterthought, to ease of use).
    Your example of Sketchup, is relavant to me, in the fact it isn't available for my OS. (where is the value if I can't use it)
    On the trust issue, there has to be a level of trust and a lot of companies fail there. Closed source ones, and open source ones both, have failed and been exposed, from connections with the NSA (guilty unless proven innocent), to harvesting your info to make money from (searches, voice/listening with the current Samsung smart tv issue), to patent agreements, on obvious/non valid patents.
    Who is the vendor, well what brand are you talking and you know who the vendor is. That is pretty obvious, I would think. Linux is a product of Linus Torvalds and lots of other programmers, who he trusts (although anyone can submit something, the others will have to look at and test it and make it and the poster prove themself and it, before it is accepted). Gnu is a project of the Free software foundation, and it's members/programmers. Distributions have both paid and content contributing people who bundle together these and other items (or create them), as a package.
    You mentioned Gimp, although it isn't the only software I have seen that way. There are false MS disc's out there, as well as other software that people try to spoof, to infect others system's. VLC was an example I saw an article on, with Windows Tiles (8.1), where only one link out of something like 20 was the actual thing.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    The Gorge Area, Oregon
    I've had relatively bad luck in getting the features you're listing from payware.

    This is not to say that software or production of software doesn't have value.. it does.. However managing the realization of that value and who obtains the value is complicated and varies quite a bit from instance to instance.

    There are two sources of value with software (ignoring middle men to simplify the discussion):
    • software creators
    • software consumers

    The goal of a software creator in a perfectly rational world (in which we don't live) would be to optimize their return for their output. In some cases this value is directly realized by selling the software or the time required to create the software. I believe that this "software as a commodity" is primarily what you're considering. The other source of value for the creator is realized from the output or capabilities of the software (in effect they are creating the software in preparation to be a consumer of it). In this case there are some conflicting cases:
    • if the software contains "secret sauce" keeping it proprietary makes sense
    • if the software can be resold as a commodity for more than the cost of maintenance then keeping it closed source makes sense
    • if the software is mostly generic and the services on top of the software are what add value (web servers for instance) then open sourcing it to leverage the reasources other companies/users with similar needs can makes sense

    On the consumer side I desire to have the most applicable functionality for the least overhead (overhead includes: acquisition cost, traingin and support costs, usage costs, etc..). If we solely evaluate based on acquisition cost then free software probably makes the most sense. However ongoing support is what generally is the larger overall costs so you have to evaluate the relative benefits in either direction based on that. The end point of this comes down to the capabilities and needs of the consumer. In cases where the consumer is simply a commodity user they will tend to buy/use commodity software and live with whatever limitations that entails. More advanced consumers may trend towards being closer to producers which is where it gets complicated.

    I have some preference towards the "I like software I can touch" open-source side because I can:
    • inspect the source if I'm so inclined
    • make modifications to suit my need. Trivial example, the open source postgres database didn't sort ip address types correctly. I did the trivial 4 line patch and submitted it - they chose to fix it in a slightly different way so my patch was never in mainline but I was able to happily use the new working version for several months before a new version came out.
    • Pay contract programmers to add a feature I need (this is moderately common actually). In some cases releasing it back into the wild makes the most sense from a cost of maintenance perspective (even if others gain benefit from it, and even if you're still paying ongoing contract support). Other times you can do custom in-house extensions

    I realize that not everyone is willing/able/capable of doing the above but there are often enough of "me's" to make it work for some classes of software.

    As far as realizing the percieved value of paying for software as a consumer here are a few of my personal experiences:

    I've reported a multiple number of critical security flaws in paid software and found it distressingly common to have to threaten public exposure to get a fix in ~months~ (one notable one was a firewall product that allowed execution of arbitrary commands on it because they got overly clever with the ssh setup - which seemed rather bad. I sat on a local system privilege exploit in windows for ~years~ because the reporting overhead wasn't worth it... might still exist for all I know ).

    Support for feature additions is generally non existent unless you are sufficiently large to pay for the feature entirely yourself and even then is often shoddily done or rejected (unless you're big enough that the threat of you moving to a competing product is sufficient motivation - and no help if there IS no competing product).

    One of the major counter examples of the open source plan is a lot of business specific software. For a few years in the mid 90s one company I worked for contract wrote software to do custom region allocations for a specific companies sales teams (the part of the company I was starting was in slow mode at the time so I got pulled in to do some dev work to pay the bills). The general usefulness of this class of software is highly dubious and so it makes the most sense for it to be more or less propretary.

    As far as trust I would refer you to this seminal paper:
    and perhaps a few evenings spent with the Risks Digest:

    After reading that I would trust that your general level of trust would be quite low indeed You can't really trust any software but you can do a cost/reward evaluation prior to using it.

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