If you think about it, we’re in an unprecedented era with freeware. There are so many free products and services available online, it’s dizzying to even try to keep up with them. Some of them, like Gmail, are amazingly useful—even game changing—and best their paid counterparts by miles. We use these free services daily without even thinking about the fact that we’re getting something amazing at no cost. Moreover, we expect it now. We expect to pay nothing for many things. If you stop and think about it, this is a little crazy. Has there ever been a time in human history when we expected so much for free?
For the past few years, I really enjoyed the abundance of freeware and frequently snapped up new free services as they appeared, but I’ve started to have second thoughts, especially as I realize just how much my workflow depends on these free services. The good part of “free” is the cost; the downside is that you have no leverage if things go wrong. What incentive does a freeware maker have to respond to your customer service inquiries or spend time troubleshooting a problem specific to you?
If I’m paying for a product or service, I feel like I’m entitled to support, and I also feel like service provider has more to lose by not providing a good customer service experience.
What’s more, I believe that if someone creates a product or provides a service of value to others, the creator is entitled to compensation. This is how things work in a normal economic universe. In the long run, we all benefit from paying for software because it creates more incentive for software makers to enter existing or create new markets.
The only exception to this argument is open source freeware like OpenOffice.org or even free OSes like Ubuntu. With open source, there is enough of a community motivation to maintain quality, and Web 2.0 platforms like message boards create customer service systems from the users themselves. If you rely on free open source software, I would encourage you to donate to the efforts of those that maintain it.
If you found out tomorrow that your favorite free service now requires you to pay, would you? How much?