A Week of Divesting: Software

N.B. If the makers of any of the software I mention are reading, this is a metaphorical post invoking artistic license…

Pirated softwareImage by ONT Design @ Flickr

I used to have an objection to people making money from non-physical things such as software programs. After all, they can be reproduced perfectly and cost virtually nothing to distribute – yet end users are often  charged a fortune. This objection vanished recently after a couple of things happened…

First, I secured my new position as Director of E-Learning. This means that my livelihood is dependent upon the work of others: no e-learning hardware and software equals no job for Doug! More than that, though, the producers of such things are dependent upon me. Without schools and academies buying their products, they would not have the money to employ staff. This got me thinking about the economy (especially because of the recession), and about whether the ‘free lunch’ we’ve been getting through Web 2.0 tools was sustainable.

Second, a couple of months ago I listened to a debate on the radio about huge pharmaceutical companies and the price they charge for drugs that treat Swine Flu. The debate included discussion about treatments for HIV and I came away realising that the pharmaceutical companies aren’t all bad. They invest literally billions of dollars into researching these treatments which, after all, greatly benefit the human race. They have to recoup these costs. Despite this, in Africa, most drugs are sold at cost price or slightly higher. That got me thinking about ‘hidden costs’ in general, and how companies that produce software also have costs that they need to recoup.

I’ve had dodgy versions of software ever since I can remember. In fact, I can remember as an 18-year-old pretty much everything on my Windows-powered computer being pirated. This has changed over the last 10 years, however: there’s only a couple of programs that I’ve refused to pay hundreds of pounds for yet enjoyed their functionality. None of the programs on the Linux-powered netbook upon which I’m writing this cost anything, so I’m alright there. However, on my Macbook Pro, I’ve substituted the following for Open Source Software:

The rest of the software I use, from CD/DVD burning (SimplyBurns) to FTP programs (Cyberduck/FileZilla) are free to use.

So really, this post is about ‘coming clean’, about getting rid of the last vestiges. As you can see, it’s not about the fact that I can now afford these programs. It’s about making a decision that it’s either worth the license or its not. And if its not, doing without the functionality. Well, at home at least – I’ll have access to more programs and licenses through the Academy… 🙂

What are YOUR thoughts on this?

If you tweet about this post, don’t forget to include a link back to it so that your tweet can be included under the comments section!

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2 thoughts on “A Week of Divesting: Software

  1. Some interesting points but personally I think that the patent/copyright system is still broken for the 21st century. Henry Mintzberg suggests that big pharma (in the states at least) are not charging based on the cost of development but what the market will bear and that “Much of the upstream research is government subsidized, which means that tax dollars may be converted into profits for pharmaceutical companies.”
    This to me seems plain wrong!
    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/reprint/175/4/374.pdf

    also on the aspect of purchasing software in the UK, if you are spending UK taxpayers pounds you should be aware that the “Government is explicitly declaring its support for a level playing field between OSS and proprietary software procurement within Government by acknowledging the competitive viability of OSS solutions.”

    http://www.ogc.gov.uk/assets/images/OGCOpenSourceSoftwarePolicy.pdf
    something I introduced my University to at the board of studies.
    the report also states
    “Purchasing Units should question all assumptions about maintenance of the status quo or acceptance of brand leadership or dominance before purchase.”
    and that
    “Purchasers must satisfy themselves, and Gateway reviewers, that full cognisance has been taken of the potential for such lock-in and that any decision to continue with a proprietary standard can show that it achieves best value for money over the full life cycle.”
    the lock in being a key issue when purchasing proprietary software that in my opinion is oft overlooked in schools.

    None of that is to say that proprietary solutions can’t offer the best value for money, just that OSS should always be given a fair hearing!

  2. I love free stuff, but know that people have to make a living so I donate to the creators of free stuff when I use it a lot, and try to mention them on Twitter or in my blogs, to return free PR.

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