Fairware: It Kinda Works!
It's been 6 months since I made Hardcoded Software's apps fairware, and I'm glad to announce today that it kinda works!
For the uninitiated, fairware is open source software with expectation of fair contributions from users. The software is BSD licensed, but the developers count their hours and publish them online. Also, all contributions are automatically published (anonymously) and the current amount of unpaid hours is computed in real time. If there are any unpaid hours for the project, a fairware reminder pops up in the application itself on startup, asking for users (only those who haven't contributed yet) for a fair contribution. You can read more about it in the introductory article I wrote 6 months ago.
That's right, after a couple of months of tweaking, the last block of 60 hours I've invested in dupeGuru has been paid back at a rate that is very close to the money I was receiving for it when it was closed source, that is roughly 3000$ per month (although there had been exceptional months). It's hard to believe that an open source "shareware type" application could be making nearly as much money as its closed source counterpart, but yup, it's happening!
One thing I learned with the fairware adventure is that being open source gives a software a lot of free publicity. In the last 6 months, dupeGuru has been mentioned in a lot more blogs and forums than it was before then (and this kind of publicity, word of mouth, is by far the best one). The average contribution by user is significantly lower than before, but since there's so many more users, the end result, money-wise, is similar. If you consider that I stopped my Google AdWords campaign which was costing me about 300$ per month, fairware is really starting to look nice.
Of course, measuring the success of fairware by comparing monthly revenue is flawed because when all hours are compensated, the money stops coming in (as I write these lines, there's only a few hours left to pay to the dupeGuru project). What dupeGuru's success proves is not that it can earn as much money as its closed source counterpart, but that for those of us out there who are uncomfortable with the concept of intellectual property (and the thought of sitting on it undeservedly), there's a way out. There is a large enough pool of fair users out there to compensate work invested in an open source project.
Another interesting conclusion to draw from this success is the effect of a fairware app on its competitors. Shareware applications having to deal with open source competitors is not new, but what is new is having to deal with open source competitors for which the author can afford to spend more time than his mere "hobby time" on it. If dupeGuru has many more users now, it means that its closed source competitors have less of them (unless the market for duplicate scanning software widened recently). On the long run, I think that fairware could slowly make closed source software, at least in the field of "little shareware apps", irrelevant.
So my message to other developers out there: If you're an open source developer, be aware that your users might very well be open to fairly compensating your time if you make it easy to do so. If you're a closed source developer, you might want to consider opening your source, because if one of your competitors does it first, he'll have the first mover advantage and might drive you into irrelevance before you can do anything.
Can fairware work on anything else than the "one developer little app" type of software? I'm not sure. It also remains to be seen whether you can expect fairness from corporations, that are by their very nature greedy. So it's very possible that the fairware concept doesn't scale. But there's plenty of closed source "one developer little app" out there (for which fairware could work), and I hope fairware is going to shake that world a little bit.