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What Happened To Supermike?

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supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17
Getting popular with your

Getting popular with your software still won't convince enough people to purchase it.

After a lot of long walks, thinking this thing through, I think I've come to the conclusion that the only way to make money with free software is:

* Make a server appliance, if you can afford it.
* Sell a Linux distro. If your software isn't that, then obviously this won't help you.
* Not only give it away as a free download, but customize it and resell it as a hosted solution. However, there's a lot of legal obligations and huge costs with this, so you better have a friendly venture capitalist who sees your same vision. And when you tell the venture capitalist that you also give the software away, be prepared to get laughed at.
* Make it difficult enough and undocumented enough that someone will want to pay you for support.
* Make the software extremely modular with plug-in modules. The main software will be F/OSS. The plug-in modules will be open source but non-free (but yet affordable).
* Put the site out there to allow free downloads, but then forget about getting any customers that way. Instead, just sell yourself with freelance programming gigs, and offer to use GNU F/OSS to accomplish tasks. You'll have a leg-up if your software is really that great.
* Make an open source, bootable LiveCD server that hosts your web app and has a great admin interface for the app and the OS. Do not give that one away -- make it only available with a purchase.

If I could give any advice to any budding F/OSS developer out there, it's:

* Do *NOT* spend 5 years of your life writing it. Make it short, sweet, simple, incredibly UNIQUE (key point), non-broke (second key point), and painless to install (third-most important). Knock it out in less than 4 months if you have a wife, family, and day job, or 2 months if otherwise.

* Consider the pay models in the other list above. I've tried the option of just making the software, sticking it out there, marketing it, and seeing if anyone wants to pay for it, and they're not taking the offer. Instead, all you'll get is just a bunch of happy downloaders and a bandwidth bill. I even offered a fantastic, well-written developer manual, and they're not interested. I even offered for them to email me if they would like to see a server appliance option, and they're not emailing me.

tbuitenh's picture
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Joined: 2005-12-21
not quite agreed
supermike wrote:

Getting popular with your software still won't convince enough people to purchase it.

Which is why the thing you use to get popular should bring in money itself.

Quote:

* Make a server appliance, if you can afford it.

Really? Who would buy one now virtual machines are all the rage? This only works if the the appliance is for "nomadic" users. Install by plugging in the power chord, share with others for a day or two through wireless, switch off, pick up, move to a different event. As far as I can tell that is the only place where appliances would still make sense (apart from home routers/firewalls of course).

Everyone else is happier with something that can install in one click on whatever OS they are already using or that will run on a virtual machine they already installed. Appliances with their own storage are unreliable, diskless appliances that need an NFS or SMB server elsewhere on the network have the appearance of being too difficult to install. And appliances in general suck more power than extra software running on a server you already have does.

Quote:

* Not only give it away as a free download, but customize it and resell it as a hosted solution. However, there's a lot of legal obligations and huge costs with this, so you better have a friendly venture capitalist who sees your same vision. And when you tell the venture capitalist that you also give the software away, be prepared to get laughed at.

Actually, this is something you can start for cheap and then build into something bigger if you can figure out how to make money off it. Letting users pay for access is not the way to go. See also the first point.

Quote:

* Make it difficult enough and undocumented enough that someone will want to pay you for support.

Now that is some insane advice. Software that is difficult and undocumented usually does not get installed by anyone at all, and when it does get installed it's likely to be removed within an hour because it "doesn't work". That way the chances of anyone paying you for support are zero.

What you want to do is write a friendly and useful paperback-sized manual with lots of examples and hand-holding, and sell it (printed, of course). Not a developer manual, a user manual. But first you will have to gain some popularity.

Quote:

* Make the software extremely modular with plug-in modules. The main software will be F/OSS. The plug-in modules will be open source but non-free (but yet affordable).

If something is open source but not gratis, anyone can share it with others for free. The only thing stopping users from doing that is their sense of ethics, and that's not something you want to rely on Eye .

Quote:

* Put the site out there to allow free downloads, but then forget about getting any customers that way. Instead, just sell yourself with freelance programming gigs, and offer to use GNU F/OSS to accomplish tasks. You'll have a leg-up if your software is really that great.

That works.

Quote:

* Make an open source, bootable LiveCD server that hosts your web app and has a great admin interface for the app and the OS. Do not give that one away -- make it only available with a purchase.

That's a nice thing to combine with the book mentioned earlier. Even better if it doubles as an install CD.

Quote:

* Do *NOT* spend 5 years of your life writing it. Make it short, sweet, simple, incredibly UNIQUE (key point), non-broke (second key point), and painless to install (third-most important). Knock it out in less than 4 months if you have a wife, family, and day job, or 2 months if otherwise.

Doing things quickly and right always is the best way. Also make sure that whatever you do, you do it because it's fun. Making money off it is the way to ensure you can continue to have fun instead of needing to do (more) work that isn't fun.

If you're going to do something (mostly) for the money, be very aware of the risk of failure and make sure you have something fall back on. Or just choose a normal job and take care not to get fired. That pays too and it's close to risk-free.

You can't have your cake and eat it. Don't expect to be paid much (or at all) for work that many others can and want to do.

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17
Latest

My wife has these suggestions:

* Add Google AdSense to my Volo site. (I just hadn't gotten around to it after being so busy with the day job.)

* Create Volo Stat (like Milestone and Fixer but an Issue Tracker based on SQLite) but make it modular. The base app is free and fairly functional. For more features, such as a knowledge base, I charge a small price for the modules. They're open source, but non-free. I'll have to see if the GPLv3 contract will permit me to do this. If not, then I'll have to use a completely different license to match this.

* Create the SugarCRM gadgets for Milestone, Fixer, and Stat. Find one other very popular commercial portal product and do the same thing with that API too. This drives a potential revenue stream from those portal products to my site.

* Give Volo a rest for awhile and focus on getting 50 Blog/Forum/AdSense sites up, then grow from there.

And, I believe I've finally been talked out of the server appliance product idea -- people want to use their own hardware. What they want, instead, is a LiveCD Server that boots Ubuntu Server. One would need to boot it on a Linux server with EXT3 partitions and some available space. It will unobtrusively create a new directory in the /opt space, or, if rebooted, reuse an existing one. This is where it will store everything that the server needs, including the web apps, web administration software, etc. I'll have to see how this is made possible, or if someone has already created such a thing.

tbuitenh's picture
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Joined: 2005-12-21
open source but non-free?
supermike wrote:

For more features, such as a knowledge base, I charge a small price for the modules. They're open source, but non-free. I'll have to see if the GPLv3 contract will permit me to do this.

Open source but non-free? What on earth does that mean? "non-free" is a synonym for "not open source". IIRC debian uses it for software that doesn't satisfy the requirements of the DFSG.

I think you mean you want people to pay for downloads. The GPL allows you to do that, but be warned that there is nothing stopping others from redistributing for free what they paid you for. So the only result will be that people download your software from elsewhere. Your bandwidth bill will be smaller, but it doesn't really help you, does it?

There is no Free or open source license that does not permit free (as in beer) redistribution.

But making your software modular is a good idea. It makes your software more flexibility, which makes creating custom code easier, and custom code is something you can get paid for.

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