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RANT: High Software Prices!

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Carol Haynes: anything under £1/litre is cheap in .dk at the moment.

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I realise that other EU states also have a bad time of petrol prices but I didn't realise Denmark had got that bad!

Always makes me laugh when I hear Americans whinge on about expensive gas - simple solution get rid of the 6 litre V8 4x4 SUV and buy a 50cc motorbike  ;) - or even better a pushbike ... that'll get you fit too!
-Carol Haynes (April 17, 2007, 07:19 PM)
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I always laugh when I hear others complain about this or that in America. If your country sucks, move. The US pays more for oil than any other country. What's the military budget for Britain for instance? Just because the price is not on the pump doesn't mean it is not paid.

I live in China. Nobody pays for software here. Well, ok, maybe someone but I have yet to meet them.
Companies, Universities, Government offices. All have Windows, all have Office. All are 'registered' to Bill Gates.
Is it because China is a poor developing country? Naaah, China has 1 trillion (that's a lot in layman's terms!) dollars in foreign reserves.

It's because nobody can make anyone here pay. What, the US is going to stop imports of cheap shoes and shirts? Ha ha ha!
Why, oh why would anyone pay for software when they can run it for free? When your competitors don't pay? When there is no penality?

Many software houses have differential pricing. I can but Kaspersky, for example, cheaper here than in the UK/US/Germany. Why? Mind you I like having cheaper prices, but it seems unfair to those in the higher price countries. Are they subsidizing my price?

What I DO mind is the price of specialized utilities. I've seen $29.95 MP3 taggers. They don't even do other formats, just MP3. Seems a bit excessive. Same for backup software. While $60.00 may not be a lot to a company, it is a fair piece of change to me. A good example is ThumbsPlus picture viewer. $49.95 for standard, $89.95 for Pro, $129.95 for a 'perpetual' Pro license. No such option for the standard license. So, is it justifiable to pay $129.95 or to use something like FastStone Image Viewer for free?
At $29, maybe $39 I'd use ThumbsPlus. So the pricing lost them a customer. Of course they can lose 6 at my price for every one at their price.

In all, if I total the cost of the software on my system it exceeds the cost of the hardware. Personally, I have taken to asking for a discount if I really want a certain app. You'd be surprised how many thoughful developers there are. I appreciate them making it possible for me to run legal versions of their software.

For the Adobe and Microsoft types, I'm refuse to upgrade past my versions. They do what I want, I'm extremely familar with them, I don't see the value in the current upgrades.

Value, that's what it comes down to for me. Is it subjective? Yep. But it is less and less frequent in the commercial software world. More often found in the shareware arena. Surprisingly I find few freeware/open source apps that I keep.

My point wasn't that it never happens but that it's rare and I don't see any signs that it's going to become so common that commercial software ceases to exist.
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You seem to have substantially changed your stand now.-nosh (April 22, 2007, 09:45 AM)
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I don't think I've changed my stance at all. Re-read what I said originally:

I'm not sure there will ever be a collision between free and commercial software. Free software tends to be very small, simple programs that don't get significantly updated often and only do one or two simple things. That isn't bad, I use and love a lot of those programs and I've written and given away several myself, but when someone wants to make something really good, polished and powerful it soon turns into a full-time job. There's only so much you can do in your spare time. At that point you've got to start earning money from your software or the harsh realities of our capitalist world will swallow you up and spit you out.

(What really does annoy me is when people do try to sell those small, simple, spare-time software products. It seems cheap to me and, even if it's more costly to me personally in terms of my time vs my money, I'd rather write my own version of a small tool than pay someone money for something that only took them a day to write. Usually there's some other tool that'll do the same job for free, and that's alright.)

There are some very good, polished and powerful free programs but they're exceptions, IMO. They're also often funded by large companies with an agenda of killing off other products in the market.-Nudel
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If I seem to have changed stance then please explain why and I'll either admit my mistake or explain what I meant, but I don't think I've done any such thing.

Either you're extremely naive or you're simply in denial if you think good freeware that does more than one or two things is a rare commodity. I could give you a list of top notch freeware apps on my system that are as good as or better than any commercially available software.

Azureus and Utorrent are damn good programs that perform complex tasks and perform them well.-Nosh
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Downloading BitTorrents is hardly what I would consider a complex task. Both those programs do one thing and do it well. (At least, uTorrent and BitComet do it well. I have not used Azureus.)

I wouldn't categorize Firefox as a simple software that just does one or two things either, it's the most used app on a lot of PCs.
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I never said Firefox was simple and I've said multiple times now that Firefox is one of the exceptions that has full-time employees working on it. Have you actually been reading what I have said, or are you just skimming it and posting a reaction to what you think I've said?

I'm sure a lot of folks on this forum will be able to mention great free IDEs that they use for developement.-Nosh
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I take it you're talking about Eclipse? IBM funded its development originally and even now it's still funded by a consortium of companies who stand to gain from there being a good, free tool in this area. It isn't something written in someone's spare time for free; people get paid to write it and my point is that that is unusual.

Is it just another exception then? Wait a sec! We're seeing quite a few exceptions here... maybe it's the rule rather than the exception.-Nosh
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If you want to argue that it's not that unusual then that's fair enough and I guess we just see things differently or are concentrating on different products which matter more to each of us. My opinion is that these "free but funded" projects are unusual, and are not going to extend into every area of computing, because there are only certain things where a company gains an advantage from funding something that they then give away free.

Maybe you are arguing that that such funding of free/open products is actually an inevitable result of competition and/or monopolies and something that will become the norm. If so, that's something I hadn't really thought about until now, and it's an interesting idea that's well worth discussing. You might be right there, eventually, although I think it is very hard to predict and there will likely be many areas where no company does such a thing.

If, on the other hand, you are arguing that people are going to write worthy replacements for all the existing big and good commercial products in their spare time at the weekends then I find that highly unlikely, based on my own experiences of trying to write code in my spare time and on what I've seen produced by others. The big and good free stuff has funding behind it.

Let's look at the stuff I use regularly on my own PC, pretty much in the order they are in my apps toolbar:

Directory Opus: Shareware/commercial. No free/open file manager comes close. (IMO no commercial one does either, but that's clearly a matter of opinion and personal preferences.)

Firefox: Free, but funded by two or three large companies with the agenda of preventing Microsoft from "owning the web".

Windows Mail: Free (with Windows), but given away by MS. MS have several items on their agenda here: To promote their OS. To stop people using someone else's mail client. To make it easier to upgrade to a non-free MS mail client. (I used Thunderbird 1.5 (free but funded) for a while but I got sick of certain bugs and, apart from the spellchecker which I miss, I never saw much difference between Thunderbird and Outlook Express (now called Windows Mail in Vista). I'm tempted to try Thunderbird 2.0 that just came out as I believe some of the problems I had with 1.5 are no longer an issue, but I'm sick of moving my mail back and forth between formats, to be honest. I don't need a more complex mail client so I stick with a free one.)

TextPad: Shareware/commercial. (I haven't tried every other editor but I've tried a lot of them and most of them suck, IMO. The editors that don't suck seem to other shareware/commercial ones, although ScinTilla has potential (but has also not yet spawned an editor that I actually liked). The other commercial editors might be better than TextPad now but they don't seem to add enough features that I care about to make it worth my while buying them, configuring them and getting used to them. TextPad has flaws (mainly the lack of Unicode support) but is generally very good at what I need it for so I've stuck with it.)

mIRC: Shareware/commercial. (mIRC also has flaws, like the options dialog that's straight out of 1985, but since it gained multi-server support several years ago it is undoutedly the best IRC client by a long shot, unless there's one I haven't tried. The others don't even feel like Betas.)

KeePass: Free/donation. Does one particular job well.

NewsLeecher: Shareware/commercial. Does one particular job well. This is one where I'm surprised there isn't a free tool that's as good, but it's so much better than the free alternatives that it was well worth the small price.

uTorrent: Free. Does one particular job well.

PuTTY: Free. Does one particular job well.

Remote Desktop: Comes with the OS, but does cost extra since you can only host RDP from Pro/Business/Ultimate versions of the OS, so safe to say it's commercial.

Virtual PC: Used to be commercial. Free now. Not open. Free because MS and VMWare are competing with each other in the high-end VM space by giving away their  products in the low-end VM space. (I know VMWare is supposed to be better, but all I want to do is run a web browser in a VM and VPC seems to use a lot less memory and doesn't install lots of services and other stuff. I've tried both and prefer VPC for my particular needs.)

Photoshop/ImageReady: Commercial. The Gimp seems to be the only free alternative and I didn't like it last time I tried it.

Media Center: Commercial. There are some free products in this area which sound okay but are not as good IMO (e.g. you have to keep a client app open else your TV won't get recorded, while MC has a recording service that works so long as the PC is booted), unless you want to look at running Linux (which isn't an option for me and PVR software on Linux isn't something I know enough about to have an opinion).

Media Player Classic: Free and open. Does one particular job very, very well.

foobar2000: Ditto.

Exact Audio Copy: Ditto.

iTunes: Commercial. Sucks. But gives me gapless playback and games on my iPod. (Two things that are also delivered by the Rockbox firmware which is a very impressive effort and something I was very glad existed when it was the only way to get gapless playback on hardware with a good amount of storage. But also, IMO, an example of something where people work on what they feel like for fun without concerning themselves too much about what "needs" to be done to make it a really polished, user-friendly and "complete" product that you don't have to be a geek to use.)

Acronis TrueImage: Shareware/Commercial. The only alternative I know of is Ghost which is also commercial. This is something I could see being developed by an open-source team, though, so maybe one day.

ImgBurn: Free. Does one thing well. (I miss stuff from Nero and would happily pay money for Nero again if it hadn't become ultra-bloated (VoIP in a CD burning suite!? WTF!?!?!?!?). Sadly, only the ultra-bloated Nero supports Vista so I have ditched the product.)

Visual Studio: Commercial. Rocks. Yes, there's Eclipse, but VS is still best for C++ and C# which are the languages I care about. (To be honest I wasn't a big fan of Eclipse when I started writing Java again for 6 months of 2006 but Eclipse isn't a bad program, I guess. Either way, Eclipse is/was funded.)

Process Monitor / Process Explorer: Free. Do one thing each very well. (Owned by MS now, FWIW.)

Resource Hacker: Free. Does one thing well.

Inno Setup: Free. Does one thing well.

Axialis IconWorkshop: Shareware/commercial. Best tool for creating icons I've seen. I'm not aware of another commercial tool that works anywhere near as well, let alone a free one. It is the kind of tool that could be written by spare-time developers, though, I expect.

TechSmith Camtasia: Commercial. Camtasia isn't without fault but it is good. There are more expensive products in this space but they didn't seem to justify the extra price. The free screen/video-capturing apps I tried were all crap.

WindowClippings: The basic 1.5 version was free. Now 2.0 is on the way and is going to cost money, so that the guy behind it can justify the amount of time he's spending on it. It'll only be $10 though so I'll be buying 2.0 as soon as it's ready. Does a bunch of things that other screen grabbing apps don't do, although it works both ways as TechSmith's GrabIt also has a few features which WC is missing. (GrabIt is also 4x the price.)

Various games which are irrelevant I guess, but all commercial.

Messenger: Free but funded by MS to attack/obtain the market share of other IM clients. I'm not a big fan of IM -- I wish everyone I talked to was on IRC FFS -- so I'd never pay for an IM client, but having just Messenger seems to let me talk to everyone I know who isn't on IRC so I put up with it.

NOD32: Shareware/commercial anti-virus. The only free products in this space that I'm aware of are limited versions of commercial products, I assume released as marketing (like the idea of Adobe giving Photoshop away free so people recommend it at work, sort of) or to stop you going to the competition. Maybe there's a free, unfunded anti-virus tool that I don't know of but if so then I'd wonder how they guarantee quality and response time without paying people full-time. Perhaps it could be done, with enough keen volunteers.

That's quite a mixture but the trend seems to be that the free stuff I use only does one or two things and the stuff I've paid for tends to be big and complex and unlikely to be replaced by something free any time soon. (There are exceptions, like NewsLeecher and IconWorkshop, which I can imagine being replaced by a free tool one day. And there's the stuff like Firefox and Virtual PC which are free but are given away by companies with agendas.) I'm just a geek, too. I don't even have Office installed at the moment (haven't bothered since I moved to a new PC), or an accounting package, CAD software or whatever else someone might need to do their work. (I guess Photoshop and Visual Studio are my main, big "work" programs.)

I'll state my point again: Big, complex, polished open/free replacements of all current commercial software is unlikely because it needs funding, and funding only happens when some company has an agenda that is served by giving away software that they pay to be created.

Now... If you live in a developed country, then there's no excuse. You can afford my prices and what I'm asking for my software. If you're stealing, then you're stealing. Period. Agreed there.-Renegade (April 22, 2007, 11:48 AM)
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Playing devil's advocate, what about someone who is in a developed nation but has chosen to do a low-paying job? (Or can't get a high-paying job.) They might work just as hard as someone else who earns more. They might be working on things that will really benefit their fellow man, which often don't pay as well as things that will benefit the 5 rich guys on the golf course who own everything. (The "payment" isn't in money but the satisfaction of making a difference, but that doesn't buy you much software or anything else in this world.)

To me, it comes down to much more than software. The problem with the world is that we have a system where the value of someone's work is defined only by the people with money. Capitalism means that, in general, if you don't have enough money to pay someone else to do something then what you want to happen doesn't matter, even if a billion other people in the same situation want the same thing. (Unless you can do it yourself or convince enough other people to do it with you, which is hard for some things, and I'm not talking about specifically software here.) On top of that, most of the people (or corporations) with significant wealth and influence are the least worthy of having either and the least suitable to decide what the rest of the planet should do with their lives.

It's not what's right or wrong, worthy or pointless. What is considered valuable in our world is not what will benefit humanity the most but, sadly, purely what a few really rich guys want to happen. Yeah, okay, it isn't really that simple and maybe a lot of it is inevitable but I think there's a lot of truth to it and it makes me sad and frustrated.

Going back to software, and what you said, I totally agree that it is basically cruel to prevent someone in a developing country from having something you can give them for free and which they would never have been able to afford. (Although you could argue that a "developed world" developer giving away his thing for free to "developing world" customers makes it impossible for someone else in the developing world to earn a living from making and selling a similar product aimed and priced at his fellow people. The cool thing about software is, provided you can afford some hardware a few tools and the time, anyone can write it and if someone in China has those things then there is nothing stopping him making a program as good as what someone in the USA or Europe makes. They could even sell it to customers in the USA/Europe at prices which massively undercut other developers, and still earn a very good standard of living. Is that fair on the other developers? Now they're being undercut by people whose costs are lower than it is possible to achieve where they live and they're forced out of business or forced to move to the developing world... On the one hand, the guys in the developing world deserve a break; on the other, the guys in the developed world can't compete and are screwed. You could argue that everyone in the developed world is holding the rest of the world down and it's payback time, or you could argue that most people in the developed world have nothing against anyone else. Even if the governments they elect are more than happy to exploit and keep down the rest of the world, most people don't even realise it's happening let alone explicitly vote for it to happen, so is it fair for them to lose their jobs because someone else in another part of the world can afford to do them cheaper?

I don't know, to be honest! I think that eventually things will even out around the world but I don't know how long that will take, nor how much the developing world's income and standard of living will increase and how much the developed world's will decrease. Maybe we'll all become extinct due to global warming before that happens anyway.

The more I think about the way the world works the less it makes sense!

I just realized something...

With the exception of about 2-3 programs, everything I have on this pc is either more than 5 years old, free, open source, donationware, or payware I got free by legal means (won it or gift or came with pc), or something I wrote myself.

I have Office 97...who uses that any more? I can't afford a newer version. And I wouldn't use it enough to get my money's worth out of it even if I could afford it. So on this pc, when the need to use something like that came up, I downloaded Open Office, because the MS Works that came with the pc failed at opening a file properly.

I have Paintshop Pro 7...I can't afford to upgrade...and I don't like the newer ones any way. I think the current version is 10.

I have Snagit 5.2...I could upgrade to a max of 5.4 for free, but even that is so old that they don't even offer a download for it on the site any more. But it does what I need it to, so it doesn't matter to me. I think the current version is 8.

The list goes on & on (I used to have a lot more money to burn at one time, but not any more).

I think I stopped buying commercial software for a few reasons:

* I was stuck on a really old pc for a long time because my good one died and I couldn't afford to replace it and the old one can't really run all the newer bloated programs.

* I have a belief that new doesn't always mean improved.

* I developed a love for small, well made, single purpose utilities. (they are usually free)

* I don't have any pocket change to spare. I live where the cost of living is high and jobs are hard to come by and the pay is low. If it's not the basic necessities of food, shelter, and utilities, then it's considered a luxury to me.

* I am afraid to buy something and then 6 months later regret it.
I have never regretted a donation I have made to a developer. I don't view it as paying for something. I view it as a thank you gift to a person that has created something I appreciate. I never regret giving a gift.

I have donated to developers that I haven't even tried their software. Something about the whole thing just seemed right at the time. I appreciated their effort or something else about them, personally.

I have one question for everyone:

Can you name 1 program that has been released in the last 5 years that is actually so good that it is worth having at any price (or even worth pirating)?

I can't think of 1.


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