It's time once again for my biannual reading of Dave Winer's web site, wherein I make note of something outrageous he says, to remind myself why I don't read his web site.
Normally I am brought to his site because someone else notes to me what he has said; this time, I went there of my own accord upon reading about Movable Type switching to a payware model.
You see, in 1998, Dave pulled the same basic bait-and-switch. UserLand Frontier was a freely available development environment (for lack of better term), and one day, Dave said, OK, if you want the new version, you're gonna have to pay for it.
Dave had every right to do it, and has every right -- nay, obligation -- to try to make money for his company. But users were understandably upset: people who came to rely on this software, who chose it in part because one of its features was being freely available, were now stuck with having to dish out money (starting at $900 for commercial sites), stick with the old version (with its warts) indefinitely, or change environments.
Heck, my own company, VA Software, did almost the same thing. SourceForge was GPL'd, and then it became commercial. The big difference with SourceForge is that you're free to take the last GPL'd codebase and do anything you want with it, whereas users couldn't develop their own forked version of Frontier. Some people might contend the best thing to ever happen to SourceForge was that it went commercial, as it became the basis of other projects, some of which are doing quite well. Nevertheless, many users were angry about the change.
I don't slam Dave for the decision to charge money, but for how he dealt with it: he attacked the users for their perfectly reasonable complaints. After all, he didn't promise it would remain free forever, and he has to put food in his mouth, and how dare you ask him to work for free! The problem is that no one asked Dave to work for free: he offered it. And then one day he changed his mind, and got angry with the people who expected things wouldn't change. Maybe changing the model was the right thing, but that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with complaining about it.
The only users I got angry with in the SourceForge fallout were those misrepresenting the facts about what the changes were (for example, some were complaining that the GPL'd version of the source was no longer available).
But expectations and feelings are only the superficial part of this story. The real story is simply in Dave trying to sell his software to people, and to do anything he can to convince them that they should buy, including impugning alternate software and distribution models.
Few things are as transparent as Dave Winer talking about free software. When he talks about things free software should do, it is because he wants people to write free code for him to use. When he talks about how software costs money, it is because he wants to convince people to give money to him.
Here's what he had to say about Movable Type:
2. Six Apart announced new pricing for Movable Type and hell breaks loose. The users are acting as children, saying somehow they didn't know that eventually Six Apart would charge for their software. I knew they were going to charge, why didn't you? I can say this because I'm not a customer (I do use their software, but I didn't pay for it) and I'm not them. But I've been where they are and it sucks. No one's perfect. If you use their software, you owe them some money. If you don't like the price, don't use it. Amazingly they're not asking for money if you use the new software in a limited form, or continue to use the old software. Users who can't get behind that are people we don't need to work with. Everything costs money. When you drive to the gas station, try whining at the attendant, and see how much gas you get. Do it enough and they'll call the cops.
3. This isn't really big news but what the heck. I got a very nice greeting yesterday from Lessig, who, while speaking was surprised to see me in the last row typing away into my blog. He said Dave! Are you blogging this? I said of course I am. And then he proceded to fall down. I said Larry don't hurt yourself. It was memorable. Lessig is a good guy. I gotta talk with him about what's going on with Movable Type. How can we help reset users' expectations so they understand that if they want good software, it might cost money? I wonder if Larry agrees.
Did you catch all that?
First, predictably, he attacks the people who complain. He justifies it by saying they should have known, implying that all good free software becomes commercial software (after all, his did!). He makes his bias known right off the bat.
Then he says, "If you use their software, you owe them some money." I don't want to read too much into it, because Dave is not the best communicator in the world; the immediate context makes it sound like he is speaking only about the new software, but I wonder if maybe he means if you use their software at all, then you owe them money for their work, even if they gave it away for free. You should be grateful for the opportunity to pay them!
And then he says it is amazing they are not asking for money if you use the software in limited form, or if you continue to use the old software. This should be amazing to no one, as many companies have free versions of their software available, and it is nearly unheard-of to charge money for software previously released freely; it's only in Dave-world where no good software remains free, because, "everything costs money." Anyone who can't see that, "we" don't need to work with (who is this "we", kemosabe? It is yet another of his appeals to make his views sound far more universal than they are).
And then he comes back with the incredible statement: "How can we help reset users' expectations so they understand that if they want good software, it might cost money?" Who doesn't understand this, except for a small number of people who use only Free Software, who wouldn't have been using Movable Type to begin with, since it was not Free Software? Most users of Movable Type run Windows or Mac OS X. And most of them probably also purchase Office or games or other software. It's not about understanding that software costs money, it's about the bait-and-switch, justified or not.
And then he finishes this attempt to make money for himself with the appeal to authority of Larry Lessig. He wants us to think Lessig might agree with him, despite knowing full well that Lessig is a strong proponent of Open Source/Free Software. Surely Lessig recognizes that some good software costs money. Dave knows this, and Dave knows that Larry would disagree with much of the rest he has to say, most notably the statement that good software DOES cost money, let alone SHOULD. But by implying Larry might agree with Dave, Dave gets some cred he might not have otherwise had. And Larry even knows Dave writes a web log! WOOOOOO!