The quest for strategies to monetize free software

I’ve discussed recently with a friend of mine photographer, illustrator and animator about the status of GIMP, Inkscape and Blender. The good news is that professionals increasingly know about these free software tools, which is already a great step forward compared to the past years. Pierpaolo acknowledged how powerful all of them are but also noticed how different they are all from other similar software in the same field. It occurred to me that while other desktop tools like Open/LibreOffice have ways to raise money to finance the development of new features, improve the user experience and interface, etc Gimp and Inkscape are primarily developed by volunteers (Blender’s development is financed by the non profit Blender Foundation through grants and donations). This whole led me to think again about how hard it is for free software projects to invest time and energy in refactoring the GUI when there are so many cooler things to add to the core functions of the software (think of the eternal complaint about quadricromy support in GIMP). Would these be interested in improving their UI if they had more money available or if they had actual ‘customers’ instead of users?

When I was thinking about all this I learned that Sourceforge released a new program to fund development of free/open source software with a revenue sharing program called DevShare. Reading the press release, DevShare offers free software developers the option to bundle extra software with their downloads and share revenues with SourceForge. When a user downloads FileZilla for example, she’s offered the option to install also another piece of software with FileZilla. SourceForge is not the first site to offer bundled downloads but it does it with a better approach, avoiding traps. They looked at best practice policies to avoid confusing end-users with misleading installation flows and promises to provide clear documentation and procedures to uninstall undesired applications.

The revenue sharing with the developers is what is most interesting to me: developers who voluntarily decided to join similar programs are often required to spend time integrating their applications with third party installers, and have limited control over what and how that’s offered to their end-users. SourceForge’s program on the other hand seems to be very open and transparent towards the developers. I’ll be following the evolution of the program, hoping that free lance open source developers find motivation.