I use free software, apps, and web tools everyday; they comprise a good portion of my digital toolbox. There are also applications, services, and web apps I use on a daily basis for which I pay. The ratio of free to paid tools is lopsided, with free services comprising most of my “go to” toolset. That’s not necessarily a bad reality, but it’s a shame that more of us in the educational technology community don’t pay for software or services, and immediately seek out the “free” solution. Not only does it dictate the driving force for which apps we seek out (rather than focusing on the efficacy, security, and reliability of the tool), but it also turns users into “those being used” by software developers, and tech moguls.
This is not a diatribe meant to berate those who claim “free is good.” Free is good, but there are hundreds of thousands of software developers out there toiling away on their products without the nice cushy advertisement revenue of Google. No, I don’t think they’re necessarily being underpaid, or toiling away in their shared co-working spaces without a sense of making the world better from behind their keyboards. This is merely a “New Year’s” call to those power users like myself to step up and help acknowledge some of the amazing products and services that are essential to your everyday work routine. This is a small nod to the developers that still have the audacity to create, publish, and promote paid services that are increasingly looked upon with an attitude that questions “is this model still relevant?”
I’ve always purchased my own software whenever possible, or made donations to “Freeware” products that I find valuable on a daily basis, as a means to say thanks to the developers. It also helps remind me of the distinction between services and software of which I am the customer, and services or software in which my data and usage are being sold to the actual customer. Again, I’m not decrying free software or services…I very much like my Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other free services. I accept the fact that what I create, publish, and share on many platforms is going to be both a help to me and the platform developers’ bottom line when seeking an acquisition or the time to integrate an acceptable revenue generating model to their product. But I still feel the need to make small gestures of gratitude to many services and software developers in an attempt to connect with them as a user.
I started just before break with my annual donation to Wikipedia. It wasn’t much, just $5, but it was a way to say “thank you” to Jimmy Wales and his staff for maintaining one of the largest social knowledge experiments on the planet, and making it freely available. I also made another donation of $10 to AdBlock, a browser extension that has made my daily tasks much more bearable without hunting for those annoying auto-play video ads in browser windows. Yes, I know that advertisements make many of the free services I use everyday free, but this post isn’t about my hypocrisy (that would require many postings), it’s about finding ways to say thanks to people that have given time to make my day a little bit better.
And for those that might take slight in my post title, I don’t think of anyone as any less of a “user” if you only seek out and use free software. It’s a riff on the old Steve Jobs attributed quote that “real artists ship.” It’s fine to use all the free software you want, but at some point, if you really care about the tools you use, you can find a way to pay for it; it doesn’t have to be much, but enough to let someone know you care about what they’ve made, and you hope they continue doing it.