Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware

Samer Kurdi
Jan 28, 2016
Updated • Jan 28, 2016

Imagine, for a moment, that you publish a site about freeware and free software, and that you’ve been doing it for 10 years. Now imagine telling people about it, acquaintances that you’ve just met at a party. Guess what the first question that they ask you is going to be? The answer, overwhelmingly, is "how do you make money out of that?".

It is actually a very good question, and a question asked by almost everyone who’s made a piece of software available on the internet for free. Not everyone wants to make money off of their free software, but for those who do, there are a handful of main ways to monetize: ads (on the download page or in the app itself), bundleware/crapware (where the installer or app tries to get you to install other software as well), and a simple bait-and-switch, where the software is no longer available for free, with or without a “last freeware version” left behind.

Then, of course, there’s freemium, which gets you to pay for virtual items (or extra features) within the freely accessible software or game.

Nothing new here so far. What is new and what I am proposing in this article is that things are changing in the ‘free software’ world such that the hidden costs of freeware are slowly inching their way upward at the same time as paid apps are becoming cheaper and more affordable, such that using free software is a trade off that sometimes does not make economic sense.

This is not to say that the era of free software is ‘over’ by any means – all you have to do is look at any smartphone or PC and you will likely find the installed base of free software outnumbering the paid counterparts by a mile. But things are changing in a way that even a self-professed “freeware genius” like myself is finding it increasingly more difficult to recommend free software to friends. (Almost).

The following stories are intended to showcase the hidden cost of free software:

When paid is cheaper than free

I am a voracious consumer of audiobooks, and about a year ago or so I decided to do a roundup of available free audiobook apps for Android, in order to compare them and come up with a “Best Free Android Audiobook Player” post to publish on Freewaregenius.

It quickly became apparent that there were two free apps that were the best of the bunch. Both were ad-supported, but neither one was mature (and feature rich) enough for my taste. Because I take my audiobooks very seriously, I tried out a paid app that looked really good (“Listen Audiobook Player” which at the time was priced at a mere $0.99), and found that it was significantly better than any of the ‘free’ ad-supported options, a lot more mature, and was actively being developed by its author as one of his main projects.

And this is where it struck me that it made absolutely no sense to recommend a “best of” free audiobook app for Android (at least at the time). It didn’t make any sense to suffer through ads strategically placed right next to the on-screen buttons, and it didn’t make any sense to forgo the advanced functionality that the paid app provided when the ‘best of class’ app, as far as I was concerned, was priced at a mere $0.99.

I had to face the fact that paying a dollar was economically preferable to dealing with ads forever, and provided a better user experience and better features as well. In a word, it was ‘cheaper’ than the free option.

Of course, you could say that this is a smartphone app, not a PC software title that might cost $50 or $20, and therefore not a situation that is generalizable across the board.

Perhaps this is so, but with services such as Appsumo, Cult of Mac and others like them regularly offering deals on software and apps at 60% and 90% discounts, the price points for PC software may be slowly heading towards under $10 without too many people noticing.

When Free software drowns your PC in crap(ware)

I used to be able to recommend free software at the blink of an eye. Friends and coworkers would ask me what the best free media player, audio ripper, video converter is …. and I would volunteer one or two titles pretty much instantly.

This was, in fact, one of the reasons why I started publishing a blog about free software. These days, however, my recommendations come with a lengthy disclaimer: “this a program is my favorite free software for what you need; however, make sure to pay attention to all the screens during the install, uncheck everything that seems like it is unrelated or like it is piggybacking on the software, and pay attention to the labels on the buttons in the install process”, etc.

Sometimes I would say that this software didn’t used to come bundled with anything when I first reviewed it, but I can’t be certain about it now. Non tech types are sometimes scared off and lose interest.

It is not a rare occurrence to receive emails full of invective from readers who found old, glowing reviews of freeware, accusing me of conspiring to infect their PCs with malware or of misrepresenting the software that I reviewed.

What happens is that months or even years after the write-up, new versions of the software are released with crapware bundled in the installer. Suddenly, and without warning, tools on my “top ten free tools for x” or “the best free tool for y” are now, seemingly with my tacit endorsement, unwittingly adding stuff on people’s machines that is changing their homepages, search providers, cluttering their interface with unwanted toolbars and extensions, and sending their usage data to god-knows-where.

On my own machine, even as I am diligent to uncheck boxes and jump over hoops while installing, I’ve become suspicious of apps that feature frequent updates, paranoid that these updates are designed to disseminate another round of crapware rather than to fix or improve the software.

Smartphones aren’t immune to crapware either. Ironically, the worst offender I have seen on Android is a system cleaner app which I’ve recommended on my site (Clean Master). No sooner than it is done removing garbage from your device, that it displays a massive list of “apps recommended for you”, mostly freemium games and clutter.

In the end, this is another example of an invisible cost to free software. Of course, there are resources to help in the struggle against crapware, such as apps like Unchecky (which attempts to uncheck all boxes by default for unrelated offers during the installation process), and articles like this one which I wrote, about what to look for while installing software in order to avoid crapware.

From a purely economic standpoint, however, there is a price that many are prepared to pay in order to circumvent crapware, and for the peace of mind of knowing that every time your apps update, you are not subject to unwanted toolbars and clutter making its way onto your PC or device.

When an entire platform disappears overnight

Imagine that you are using a tool regularly, storing your data in it for weeks or months, and then having it one day disappear because its creators couldn’t find a way to monetize it or make financially viable.

You can hardly blame them for doing this, of course, but after investing your time and energy in their tool, it is a both an inconvenience and an economic loss to have to switch, and gives ammunition to those who might not believe in free software that may or may not be around when you need it.

An example of this Springpad, an online web clipping and note-taking tool that I used along with collaborators for almost two years, and which I favored over Evernote in a detailed comparison on my site.

The project was shut down in mid-2014 after six years. As far as I was concerned, it was an example of the better product that failed in the face of competition from the more established one. Another example is the TrueCrypt project, which also came to a sudden halt in 2014 around the same time as Springpad, with unexpected questions about its reliability, potential security flaws, and the legality of some of the code used within it.

While I did not use it myself, I remember friends of mine scrambling to find alternatives, and remember wondering whether they may have been better served had they been using a $40 commercial product.

It was shortly after this that I was involved in creating interactive storybook apps, which lead me to research app creation engines. After looking into many options paid and free, and when I finally thought that I found the tool I wanted to use, I was actually relieved that it was a paid tool, thinking that this makes it more likely to still be around a year hence, and that it is safe to invest our time in learning it. It was a very ironic situation for someone who advocates for free software and writes about it for a living.

When ‘freeware’ is merely a free marketing tool

As a blogger, there are very few things that annoy me more than getting comments that a certain software tool I’ve reviewed or written about is “no longer free”. I understand, of course, that a programmer is free to do what they want with a software that they’ve created, but I cannot help feeling like I’ve been duped; subjected to a ‘bait and switch’ designed to provide free publicity, testing, and search engine credibility to the developer(s).

I’m not saying that developers should not aspire to make money out of their software, but I do think that there should be a tacit rule, that the last freeware version should always be made available. Usually, this is the case, and even if the developer him/herself does not provide a last freeware version, there will be many sites and resources on the internet which will.

This is not always the case though: an example of this is ‘Fences’, a desktop organization tool which was written up and promoted extensively by all sorts of tech blogs like mine, and which one day ‘expired’, with the paid version being the only available option.

This is an example of the ‘hidden costs’ of freeware in the same way as the 'disappearing platform' above: you’ve put in your time and energy into a platform only to have the rug pulled from underneath your feet, a risk that you take with free software every single day.

The Conclusion: free software is NOT dead

Despite everything that I’ve said above, I do not believe that the conclusion is that free software is dying, not when free software such as WordPress, Linux, and MySQL powers most of the internet, and not when every single PC, smartphone, and device across the globe is choc-full of free tools.

Rather, it might be possible to say that the success of free software has been so complete that paid software has become cheap enough to compete with it, especially given that the (understandable) efforts to monetize ‘free’ have had the effect of lading it with invisible costs.

At the very least, I hope to have simply shed some light on the concept of ‘hidden costs’ in free software.

Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware
Article Name
Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware
Samer Kurdi describes why he is losing faith in free software by listing all that is wrong in the "free software world".
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  1. supergirl said on January 29, 2018 at 6:03 am

    Never lose faith in freedom….

    No one is considering the BIG picture…

    When robots & AI converge there will be No jobs..

    Do not allow all the worth of the world to be in the greedy hands of a few.

  2. dontmakemelaugh said on January 28, 2018 at 6:50 am

    This article forgets there are many free services to release free and opensource that neither use ads or mining or any hidden costs for the whole process.

    GitHub and other similar services allow developers to develop, build (compile) and distribute their single or multi OS apps, and even host websites in the provides all inclusive 100% free no strings attached service.

    Opensource software and some popular licences like GPLv2 dont however prevent developers or uninvolved 3rd parties to charge for that said software in any case and has been done in the past and is nothing new, the fact remains developers often still decide disseminate their creations as free, as in free beer with no catches.

    How long this bonanza will last is unknown, but a sad day will come when developing and hosting opensource or free software will come to a halt. This is probably closer in the US with the death of net neutrality.

    A sad day will be when this surge for grabbing revenue is such that will kill collaboration in opensource. But there are many other ways to kill opensource and free software that are actively exploited today, like “concerned trolls” infiltrating popular projects as developers only to destroy them from the inside little by little.

  3. e-jambon said on March 1, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I so hate the cross use merchandisers invented for the word “free”.

    The “Free” word in “free software” can have two meanings : it is either free as in “free speech ” or free as in “it’s a trap, where’s the rub ?”.

    It has no relation whatsoever with it’s price.
    Money is not the only valuable thing.
    Time and effort are valuable. Freedom too.
    The last one costs the previous : money, time, efforts and a lot more.

    Therefore, free softwares are expensive.
    Never under estimate what you get for their price : freedom.
    Never ever think they come “for free”.

    When it looks like it is “for free”, guess what Ackbar :
    Your own parents unshakable love does not come for free ( apologies for the spoiler, young peeps ).
    Freedom does not come “for free”
    Even healthy breathable air has a price ( which we, Humans, apparently are not willing to pay ).
    Bravo Admiral Ackbar : it’s a trap.

    You did “reveal” them. But it feels like you’re discovering the wheel here.

    PS : I am not a native english/american speaker. Pardon the faulty language.

  4. PhoneyVirus said on February 9, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    There has been many times I had experience the same problem, there were two pieces of software I use install that I can remember they are called SIW System Information for Windows and inSSIDer went paid when there were free for years. Still use the old versions from time to time, but for me to hand over money, I can’t see it happening and especially when you read Ghacks very week.


    http://twitter.com/PhoneyVirus | http://phoneyvirus.wordpress.com

  5. Valrobex said on January 31, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    There’s a free market (as in economics) slogan that says: “Let the buyer beware.” It has been true for thousands of years.

    We have now entered a quasi-free market (as in the software market) where the slogan is altered a little: “Let the user beware.”

    The suggestions made by o_O are suggestions worthy of note. Taking proper precautions might be a pain but overall they’re well worth taking for the benefit received. And should the software prove beneficial, by all means send some form of payment.

    It’s a way of saying “Thanks, for all you do!” Contrary to popular opinion, programmers need to eat and pay bills too… ;+)

  6. marc klink said on January 31, 2016 at 3:09 am

    Free software for Windows is not dead, but it is getting near the time to put the oxygen mask on. The number of authors of good freeware is dwindling, and updates are near a standstill for many programs [not that everything has to expand].

    There used to be many commercial software providers that used to offer older versions of software as an incentive for looking at their product and then having the users trade up for a small fee. Most of those are gone, as everyone seems to be holding their hands out to be paid.

    Whatever happened to doing things for the public good? [This, I feel, has to do with the basic greed that has come from too many years of Republican dominance, but I will continue without political comment]

    Microsoft used to offer some products free, and they were really good, but that time has long passed [the same as being able to attend a Microsoft-sponsored gathering for some piece of their software. Those went out with the incoming of the little dictator that is changing the way Microsoft does business, going from keeping promises to breaking them, and trying to impose its will on everyone. This has left a really bad taste in my mouth, and I doubt I’ll ever buy another piece of Microsoft software again [don’t feel sorry for me, I have plenty of MS software acquired at those meetings where something was always being given away, so I am set for the near future]

    If you are willing to use Linux, there is still a plethora of software to be had freely, but it isn’t always of the best quality, nor is it sometimes easy to tell what it is, as the naming conventions for Linux software can be ludicrous.

  7. o_O said on January 30, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    My advices:
    1) use open source software downloaded from author’s page (even better to use open source operation system with said software)
    2) avoid installers at all cost and use portable (if you can’t… use “Universal Extractor” tool to unpack it for inspection)
    3) if you have “freeware” tools that autoupdate… turn it off and update manually after reading actual changelog
    4) do not endorse crapware to others
    5) use ninite for installing without crapware

    In general, it feels like windows ecosystem started going down the tubes very quickly some years ago and now you are fighting not only with crappy OS but with crappy software that uses very shady tactics on you, in short words, it is minefield. If you can, move away from Windows (i’m talking about PC segment).

  8. Dwight Stegall said on January 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    When freeware goes away so will I. I can’t afford to buy software.

  9. Jojo said on January 30, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Just because an author charges for software is no guarantee that they will continue to develop or maintain any software they have marketed. There are numerous programs that I have paid for where the author stopped development (usually w/o explanation) and disappeared.

    One Windows program that I use and paid for long ago and that has been technically abandoned is a clipboard management application called Clipmate. IMO, this program was the most functional and most intuitive of all the clip programs I have tried over the years. Many users agreed. About 5 or 6 years ago, the author stopped developing the program w/o explanation. He did popup for a few months maybe 3 years ago where he issued a small maintenance release or two but he did not fix many problems. He then disappeared again and this time closed down the support forums, which basically many people complaining and begging for support. I believe he still collects revenue from licensing the program but again, hasn’t done any maintenance in years. If you are going to pay for a program, at least make sure you know when the last release was and if there will be further updates.

    I have grown to hate jumping through all the junkware added to many freeware programs. I pay close attention to installs but you still can’t trust that junk will not get installed. For example, I have a freeware program called Context File Menu Tools from a company called Lopesoft. The last update, they snuck some junkware onto my computer that changed my homepage in my little used IE browser, despite me carefully making sure that I check every screen during an install. I would not buy anything from this company because of this underhanded sneak practices.

    I would suggest to Windows authors that many charge far too much money for programs that most people use infrequently. Asking people to pay $20-40 for something that I might use once or twice a month, if that. Windows shareware authors need to change and follow the cellphone model of charging smaller amounts, say $2 to $10 and trying to get volume sales.

  10. stilofilos said on January 29, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    There are other sides to it as well.

    – Buddhism has a rule that anyone has the moral obligation to share with others what all advantages, possibilities, knowledge, wealth etc life has granted to him/her. There are a lot of kind developers who, altough not being buddhists, just bring this in practice as human beings and do share their knowledge and its fruits, and you never hear them talk about money. Many individuals are happy just knowing that people appreciate their software and feel gratitude, while there are big companies that essentially produce complicated products for buziness clients and scrape the for home use unnecessary complications off to give the same quality product for free to home users. There are lots of good people you never hear lamenting about money ; why would we lend an ear to the others ? B.t.w., in my experience, also having a few hundreds of free tools, exaxtly the really good ones are really free, and most of the beggarware things do not really merit being paid for.

    – It takes quite a hypocrite to talk about ‘free’ and then want a compensation for it in the guise of a ‘donation’ or whatever nuissance. Free is free. If you produce things to earn a living, ask a reasonable price for it and let people decide whether it is worth it after a trial period.

    – Asking small payments may be a solution from the point of view of an american bying american software, or a european bying european, but if you buy internationally, the ‘transaction fee’ charged by banks risks to be higher than the price itself. Banks, financial markets and transaction managers have even more ways to make it practically impossible or at least unreasonable to pay for things. I save you the details, but I know what I am talking about. If someone charges me, say EUR 40, it would cost me 70 to 80.

    1. bruno said on February 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      That’s what PayPal and other payment systems are for.

    2. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      @ stilofilos: there’s a real difference between trialware and asking for donations. In the former, the user cannot use the software beyond a certain point unless they pay. In the latter, they can use the software indefinitely whether or not they decide to pay. Very fair, I think.

  11. Jeff said on January 28, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    So I guess what we need is a site/blog that focuses on *truly* free software. Not software that is free only the in the technical sense. Software that meets a certain criteria. Criteria such as – ad-free, nag-free, easily and cleanly uninstalls (or is portable), zero hitchhiker add-ons or “offers”. That it is complete and not gimped, with a paid “pro” version enabling the best parts. (some exclusions to this would be that the free version is great for home users, and the paid version only helps those in business environments)

    Basically, there is a sense about the software that it is what I would call “pure”, and has the best intentions *for the end-user*, more than for the publisher.

    For each entry the site can tell us if the software is portable, x86 or x64, installed size, last time it was updated (is it dead or active), and so forth.

    Some programs I have on Windows that meet this criteria:

    * Musicbee
    * Autoruns
    * Process Explorer
    * Notepad++
    * Eric’s Movie Database
    * Everything (search)
    * Audacity
    * Faststone Image Viewer
    * AutoIt and Autohotkey
    * VLC, SMPlayer, and the like
    * Wiztree

    And many others.

    1. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      @ Jeff: some good criteria you list there, for evaluating software.

  12. Karo said on January 28, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    On the bright side I think the GitHub ecosystem has brought a lot of good freeware . GitHub does not guarantee quality or safety, of course. But there is a built in reputation system and the shared platform makes it easier for new developers to pick up a project when the first coder doesn’t have time to update it anymore.

  13. Corky said on January 28, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Speaking about free software that drowns your PC in crap(ware), it seems Microsoft are taking a similar approach to monetizing Windows 10.

    ” TripAdvisor®, the world’s largest travel site*, today announced the launch of a new Windows 10 app across desktop, tablet and mobile. The TripAdvisor app for Windows 10 will be available in 47 markets and will be pre-loaded on millions of Windows 10 compatible devices in 2016.”

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 28, 2016 at 10:20 pm

      Now that is interesting. Wonder how much they have paid for the privilege.

      1. stilofilos said on January 29, 2016 at 12:37 pm

        And with which money…
        I recal having seen a quote on their website for a hotel where I use to stay when in that city. Their special discount deducted, it was still higher than what I use to pay when just walking in… and no, I have no frequent guest’s discount. Also they force people not to think five minutes about their ‘offer’ because there was only one room left available, while the place was absolutely not fully booked at that time.

        Their notion of ‘free service’…

  14. jasray said on January 28, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Samer’s back! Awesome! The bestest of all the best.

    I think I’ve lost faith in the users of freeware. If I’ve found a program that really helped and that I used to save myself precious data and time, I’ve instantly clicked the “Donate.” What is a $50 donation to a guy who developed a program that just erased all of my stupidity?

    1. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      @jarsay: thanks for your kind words!

  15. Herman Sherman said on January 28, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    “Free” is just a price point as is $0.99, $1, $4.49, etc, and there’s no guarantee that a provider using any price point will not try get additional income by doing those things some “free” software providers are doing now. In fact, some paid provider may already be doing it. I kind of like the idea of grouping products first by what they do, and then by rating performance versus cost, with “cost” including such things as security problems, annoyance problems, machine resource usage, support, adequacy of documentation, so we can have a performance-versus-cost spectrum to chose from.

    1. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      @ Herman: that’s a good point, that paying for some software doesn’t guarantee that they won’t try to monetize in other ways anyway. But generally, I have been seeing developers changing from shareware to free with crapware installers. A bit surprising that they think they can monetize better via the crapware option.

  16. ddk said on January 28, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    ” but I do think that there should be a tacit rule, that the last freeware version should always be made available.”

    I would agree but often these do not get security updates making them vulnerable to exploits.
    Which is why I usually avoid older software unsupported by the developer.

  17. anon said on January 28, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Free software != Freeware (Gratis software)

    Do not conflate the two.

    1. Moonchild said on January 30, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Actually, Freeware (which is a contraction of “Free Software”) is a general term that covers both Gratis and Libre, and means there is no price attached for obtaining it.
      I know the proponents of Libre want to make the general descriptive term “Free Software” (being more than a label) mean their interpretation (Libre), but please don’t. It’s just confusing people.

    2. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      @ Anon: you’re right. See my response to greg above.

  18. Maelish said on January 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Have you considered focusing a bit more on software from sources like Github?

    1. John Krazinski said on January 28, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      Github is just the fever of the moment. Give it a couple years, you’ll see.

  19. Jon Forrest said on January 28, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Trivial typo:

    “being developed by it’s author” -> “being developed by its author”

  20. greg said on January 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Samer, I wish you had been more consistent in the terms you use. Freeware is different than Free Software. Freeware is software that does not cost you money but often does cost you personal privacy, security, and freedom.

    The solution to everything you speak about is to use Free Software (as in freedom, not cost) as explained here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software and advocated by Richard Stallman.

    Your article is misusing terms. Although Freeware is not costing you money to use it is costing you personal privacy, poor system performance, weakened security, and a negative experience overall because of the software’s limitations.

    Most of the problems you speak of are confined to users of proprietary operating systems like Windows.

    1. Jason said on January 30, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Yes, I had the same difficulty reading this article, and I’m surprised the confused terminology wasn’t mentioned earlier in the comments by someone else. I am still not sure if Samer is talking about “free software” or “freeware”. The difference is quite large. Free software can actually be sold; the word “free” refers to user freedom and not price. (It’s the polar opposite meaning of what Microsoft means when it says that Windows 10 is “free”).

      I think the focus in this article was on freeware, and in that case I can agree with a lot of what Samer says. But if the argument is that free software is on its way out, I emphatically disagree. I’m not one of these militant free software advocates that want to see all non-free software be outlawed. But if we look around us, clearly the free software movement is having an effect on the industry. Few would have expected Microsoft to make Visual Studio and .Net open source technologies, yet here we are. The push to open source comes directly from the free software movement. And then there is Google, which has made billions of dollars off free software developed by other people.

    2. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      @greg: you’re right, I could be more specific. I should have titled it “why I am losing my faith in free software”, or maybe “faith in free software and freeware” (but that last one a bit too wordy perhaps).

      In any case, and I am not trying to make an argument for the use of inaccurate terms, but most people probably think freeware and free software are the same thing.

  21. Rick Rouse said on January 28, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    I agree with everything you said above Martin. I review software (both free and paid) on my blog, and it’s getting more difficult by the day to find free software that’s truly worth the hassle of dealing with unwanted add-ons.

    Virtually all of the major freeware download sites now bundle third-party add-ons with their installers by default. Like you, I have written posts explaining how to check for and remove the add-ons from the installer, but many innocent users still get slammed with it because they don’t understand what’s happening.

    Thanks for a great post my friend.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 28, 2016 at 10:33 pm

      The article has been written by Samer :)

      1. Rick Rouse said on January 28, 2016 at 11:27 pm

        Thanks for the clarification Martin. I noticed that after I had left the message.

  22. Tim said on January 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve thought about the future of Freeware for a while now and how it’s likely to fall into demise. Obviously, that would be a shame as there’s some really good freeware out there and some extremely talented developers making them.

    My thoughts were that app stores could potentially save them, because the companies that are currently resorting to bundling their software with junk to get paid, could just use an app store instead. I mean, if the Freeware market changed and you could buy decent software for a small price without trials, subscriptions, restricted features, ad’s, etc. then why not, afterall we buy music, ebooks, games, etc. that way.

    Personally I don’t mind paying for software that’s reasonably priced (not like Adobe’s extortionate prices), so when Microsoft launched a Windows Store in Windows 8 I was interested to see what would happen. But, the problem is these app stores that would allow software developers to get paid, are just full of rubbish. Even the VLC app doesn’t play DVD’s for example, where the Desktop software does.

    So, at the moment it seems the App Stores aren’t able to create a solution either and I can only think that’s because the App Stores are app based and not Win32 based? If you type PaintShop Pro or Sony Movie Studio for example, there are no results. They focused on Apps, rather than Win32 software and as a result their app store has nothing worth buying.

    The same goes for Games. If you were able to buy proper games from the Windows App Store for example, then why not? But you can’t. Typing Just Cause 3, ARMA 3, Fallout 4 just brings up guides or maps for those games. Well, what use is that? So Microsoft also missed the boat there, because people are investing into Steam instead and are building their PC Games collection there instead.

    So, back to freeware, I think the future of decent Freeware/Shareware will mainly be low cost software delivered through app stores instead. Consumers would be happy as they get good software for a small price, and the developer is happy as they get paid without having to turn the software into borderline malware. To go this route though, I wonder whether app stores need to allow Win32 software too? Or is it that App API’s (or whatever it is that developers require) need to become more advanced so that developers can create decent software that’s more functional and useful than the rubbish that’s currently plaguing app stores?

  23. InterestedBystander said on January 28, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Interesting and well-thought-out opinion piece.

    Independent, small-shop freeware makers — like Irfan Skiljan, author of IrfanView — may indeed be facing new difficulties. But what about the “foundation” freeware — MediaWiki, Mozilla, the various Apache offerings? Some of this stuff (Apache web server, for instance) is very, very competitive with pay-market offerings. And there seems to be a viable spot for split free-to-download, pay-for-support models — Moodle, the widely used teaching platform, is free, but the developers are supported by various providers of install-and-support services.

    The scene is evolving, that is certain. And, as a Linux user at home with a Mac spouse and a Windows workplace, I notice the differences in the ecosystems across platforms.

  24. David said on January 28, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I think it’s sad that we live in a time where you have to put a big bold ending on the article “free software is not dead” in order to avoid the comments from people who can’t read or understand the article and who would – without this prominent statement – write shouty comments about free software not being dead, probably citing LibreOffice as an example.

    The real conclusion doesn’t need to be said, because the article covered it, but in a few words you could say that the trend for mainstream free software is that it is increasingly likely to fall into one of the categories stated earlier. This is a shame. Surprisingly, the Windows Store may help improve things since people can buy apps more easily with OS-integrated DRM and visible app permissions.

    It pains me to use ImgBurn now that the author bundles crapware to scam trusting (naive) users. Fortunately I still have an old version of Nero (pre-crap, paid) and it works very well for my domestic usage.

  25. Pants said on January 28, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    This topic goes way deeper than Samer’s talking points. Abandonware, or startups that threaten the leader, are bought, and then systemically destroyed/assimilated and bastardized with proprietary “protocols”. Discarded formats, tech, and even hardware – will our ancestors be able read our data, let alone be able to open or decode it. It’s an every changing landscape and no easy answers on picking a winner, let alone a long term one. I’m sure JuJu’s inane drivel will shed some light on it for us all :)

    I for one try to stick to the following:
    – uses open protocols
    – is open source (and multi platform, esp Linux)
    – is portable
    – the obvious: free, ad free etc

    I have over 350 programs on my system (Win7). If you exclude some 10 utilities such as f.lux, clover, classic shell, dropbox, flash, dnscrypt etc – I have TWO installed programs: Photoshop and MS Office. Everything else I have found a portable version that is free, ad-free, does an excellent job (usually way better than anything else), and 501 other reasons. I am of course talking about desktop – NOT smartphones. Quite frankly, the smartphone/app world is a giant mess, one that can be workable, but still a mess – but that is a topic for another day.

    And yes – I use all my 350+ portables (I would say 150 every week, 100 once a month, and 100 if ever needed: and very little duplication of software capabilities/purpose)

    So, I would say ad free, freeware is FAR from dead, and I think it will only get stronger as more people push back against the rampant idiocy of monetizing people 24/7 (I see push back against Win10, I see push back against excessive adverts on web pages, I see push back against tracking (& spying).. I see outrage at injected adverts from ISPs, I see backlash against TV’s injecting ads … and so on). The awareness is there, I just hope that the upcoming generations don’t accept the current state as status quo. That, and the IoT will unleash advert hell on us. Either we’ll all die by rampaging adverts, or the revolution will start :) JuJu – you’re the first against the wall buddy .. err …pal .. I mean buddy, guy.

    1. Hy said on January 29, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      @Pants: “JuJu – you’re the first against the wall buddy”

      Pants, thank you, yet again, for making me laugh out loud. It’s a great way to start the day!

  26. Henk van Setten said on January 28, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Right. Compared to free software, paid software has gradually become more competitive. And often there surely is a noticeable quality difference that makes it worth paying for.

    I’ve always been a great and perhaps even idealistically motivated freeware fan. But in the last few years I’ve found myself paying for software much more often than I did in the past. Compared to all other, more user-unfriendly ways of generating income for the developers, paying a small fee is just the most honest, straightforward, effective way to support them.

    Suppose for example I would have a say about the survival strategy of the excellent free image editor Paint.net? I think I would actually advise them to abandon their current strategy of optional user donations, and ask a small fixed payment from all users instead. Only for future major updates, that is. And maybe they could keep those free for those users who, like I did, already generously donated to them in the past :-)

    I was a little surprised that Samer, being a blogger, didn’t elaborate on how what he says about free software, also applies in exactly the same way to free-for-all blogs. As an example take MakeUseOf, which used to be a good original blog several years ago. But nowadays, just to survive, it’s become such a worthless heap of sh*t that it’s not even in my bookmarks anymore. Another example is Betanews, which lost its original focus and now also is in danger of seriously corrupting itself. Why not go the other way, and assume there will always be enough people prepared to pay a little for true quality content?

    I once already donated a small sum to help Martin to keep this Ghacks blog alive, but in the long run I think he would be much better off by putting it behind some kind of (modestly-priced) pay wall. That’s the inevitable future, both for software and blog content: a choice between “free” ads-ridden (or privacy-invading, or unreliable) junk for many, and more quality for a minority that actually wants to pay a few cents for it. This paying minority will begin to steadily grow, as ever more people will discover that in fact, true quality never comes free.

    1. gh said on January 28, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      “I once already donated a small sum to help Martin to keep this Ghacks blog alive, but in the long run I think he would be much better off by putting it behind some kind of (modestly-priced) pay wall.”

      I guess that has been working well for “lwn.net” site, but that seems far removed from here (ghacks subject matter & userbase). Ha! I said “userbase”. Yeah, some (a lot of?) people use this site as a news source, a few (30 ‘regulars’?) participate as commenters. In the face of a paywall, would I slink away? I honestly don’t know. Let’s try it and find out? Wait, no… (payment and) login would remove my amommyimity. A lot of us asshat commenters wouldn’t abide that scenario and, drama aside, I frankly believe the collective comments here have been more enlightening than the article content.

  27. Tom Hawack said on January 28, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Interesting article.

    I believe ad-supported freeware is not freeware to start with.
    I believe freeware bundled with crapware is a swindle.
    I know everything has a cost and that a developer’s talent, enthusiasm and sometimes passion to elaborate an application he/she intends to offer as freeware (not ad-supported, not bundleware) requires time, that a living requires time, and as such that time IS money.

    I notice that indeed there is a shareware’s price trend to lower prices.
    In consideration of this honest and detailed article and of my feelings as a user, I’d consider forgetting whatever semantic demagogy about “freeware” and prefer a new concept (new?) of “Fairware” understandable as a non-profit but only honestly remunerated application. Anyway this is already how I apprehend the market. Not that I consider profit as evil (not at all!) but only that there must be a solution provided to define a product which is free in terms of profit but has a price, that of the developer’s work. I stand for that vision.

    Great article, thanks Samer.

    1. Muriel Schlecht said on January 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      It’s even more of a swindle when a freeware developer provides a “clean” download, then the download site adds the crapware. So many popular and trusted download sites have succumbed to this lowly tactic that I won’t download anything except from the developers site…..when I can.

      1. Stephen said on January 31, 2016 at 10:39 am

        @ Muriel… and THAT is the key… get it from the dev-source – unless the dev themselves are in on it and have compiled in “stuffing you” with crapware… a new habit learned from the android “app world’…

      2. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:25 pm

        @Tom Hawack: You’re welcome
        @Muriel Schelcht: very good point about external sites adding their own crapware bundlers.

  28. Ray said on January 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    I agree. I am still one of the best supporters of open source and freeware. But I understand the realities of life and that you have to pay the rent at the end. So whenever I can afford to pay for an app (disable ads and enable premium version), I go for it. Sometimes I even find myself looking for a premium version to thank the developers. For example, Dexpot is one of the best freeware which I have used and they do not have a premium version. The only paid for version is a commercial licence which does not unlock anything yet still rewards the developers.

    I do not think Freeware is going away but I believe the mindset about “all free” is changing. I will personally pay than see the platform disappear altogether.

  29. Linuz said on January 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Might want to mention that this article is for Windows. These problems do not exist in Linux land.

    1. Samer said on January 29, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      @ Linuz… my scope was general, desktop and smartphone/tablet software, as well as web apps and services in some cases. I should have mentioned that Linux users don’t generally face most of these issues.

    2. Marty McFry said on January 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm

      Cr*p here we go again!

    3. FixxeS said on January 28, 2016 at 9:30 pm

      you can find currently some (or a lot, never searched for it) paid linux OS. not the absurd price from MS or Apple, for example, Zorin OS only costs 10 dollars, yet the free version has no limitations, Zorin OS free is equal to Windows Home premium (more or less) and Zorin OS paid version, is more like a Windows ultimate version. Coming with paid linux OS, paid Linux programs may come as well, it’s just a matter of time, they need to get money out from somewhere, like it was explained up there, rather from ads or selling statistics or personal information…

    4. gh said on January 28, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      Under the hood, Android is linux… and Steam ecosystem extends into linuxland, so I disagree with your claim that this article is relevant only to Windows. Also, across app versions, changeovers from free to paid absolutely do occur, have occurred, among linux-only software titles. Nope, that doesn’t occur often but when it does, it’s often been for “good reason” and IMO those changeovers serve as examples to support the where-things-are-inevitably-headed tone of the article.

      Coupla really featureful graphics-related (content creation) linux apps have “gone payware” and have both thrived and have been well recieved, right? Howabout the “still free, but continued development depends on your collective backing via kickstarter” cases? Would you dismiss those? Krita (drawing/painting app) is a good example here.

      Although the article doesn’t specifically mention the term “collaborative consumption”, I believe that’s a central factor in the where-we’re-headed scenario he’s describing.

    5. karol said on January 28, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      might also mention that noobody cares.

      Nobody cares now, nobody cared 10 years ago, 15 years ago when I cared doing master thesis (kernel 2.6 and kde 3.0 alpha) and nobody will care in the future… unless 1% of market share means somebody to you

      Linux won’t succeed on Desktop due to enormous EGO and hostile community surrounding it, which is clueless most of the time (at least whenever I tried to deal with it)

      Look on Android – unified Linux by strong Google hand and bingo, the biggest marketshare in mobile OSes…in few years. I know why… but tired to write it here

      because…I’m going to compile my kernel :)

      or better yet, start my new own distro… yes, good idea, all those twenty-other-zillion just suck! They all rejected my purple-colored-star-patterned background color of every window…not sure why they didn’t like it…. :/

      1. Corky said on January 30, 2016 at 10:59 am

        @karol, Not sure where you got the 1% market share from, using the statistics collected for desktops Linux has around a 10% market share, and that excludes all those system that are never user for browsing the web.

      2. MdN said on January 29, 2016 at 1:08 am

        First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. ;-)
        Mohandas Gandhi (also, RedHat motto)

    6. Pants said on January 28, 2016 at 2:33 pm

      So, in your Linux land, you have no need for online services that may or may not disappear after you invest time in them? Or use services that have ads, such as Spotify? Or you couldn’t ever use a product that is abandoned .. like TrueCrypt? Or that hundreds and hundreds of Windows programs work on Linux as well – either natively, or under WINE etc?

      Stop making the rest of us look bad, you idiot! Pretend this article is an anatomically-correct doll. Show me on the article where you stopped reading.

      1. Froyton said on February 7, 2016 at 7:57 pm


        > or don’t have a life and need games

        I’m in the “Linux > Windows” camp myself, but I have to roll my eyes at that comment.

      2. Antonio said on January 29, 2016 at 8:49 am

        > The article is about free software,
        > not online services

        Springpad was an online service. Have you read the article?

      3. MdN said on January 29, 2016 at 1:02 am

        The article is about free software, not online services, but it’s nice to see the majority feel so endangered by the few Linux users that “nobody cares about” (except 200 million LibreOffice users, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, NASA, NSA, CERN, SpaceX, Tesla, 99% of world’s supercomputers and 2/3 of the world’s servers) that they have to grasp at straws and prove the unprovable. :-p Who needs Windows programs? If you really, really need Windows software to make a living, or don’t have a life and need games, OK, my condolences, but people who rule the world (and space) run Linux.

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