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The 'Everyone Gets the Source Code, Donations Get You Binaries' Software Model 341

Posted by Soulskill
from the freedom-with-a-side-of-sustainability dept.
TroysBucket writes "One developer who is trying to fund his development work via donations has taken on an 'Everyone gets the source code, donations get you binaries' business model, where he provides installers and binaries directly only to donating users. Quoting: 'A very central goal of everything I am doing, right now, is to show a concrete [and highly documented] way that other developers can fund their own FOSS work. With that in mind One major mistake I made, right off the bat, was that I provided very little direct benefit to people who donate (no “perks”).' Has anyone seen this work well before with other projects?"
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The 'Everyone Gets the Source Code, Donations Get You Binaries' Software Model

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  • by mysidia (191772)

    The problem with that is... they don't get the binaries, they can't try out the software and learn how good it is.

    I would suggest an alternative: people who don't donate get different binaries. Binaries with a nag screen, or binaries that expire and must be manually updated after a certain date to continue using the software.

    Whereas folks who donate get auto-update or binaries that can be used indefinitely (even an old version), and maybe some additional 'add-on' content elements like themes that

    • Re:Mysid (Score:4, Insightful)

      by NemosomeN (670035) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @03:57PM (#40506917) Journal
      By only providing the binaries to donors, it looks like you are only charging nontechnical users, while more technically inclined users get it for free.
      • I'm kind of confused about what he's actually doing. "I build and maintain the “official” installers and packages and provide them, to those that contribute." Does that mean he's holding back make files and install scripts? If he's not, it should be easy to compile your own binaries and thus there's no reason to donate at all, and yes, he's just charging people who don't know how to make from source. But if he is holding back make files, then he's making sure pretty much no one who has something
        • by PCM2 (4486)

          I'm kind of confused about what he's actually doing. "I build and maintain the “official” installers and packages and provide them, to those that contribute." Does that mean he's holding back make files and install scripts?

          Clicking through to his GitHub link, [github.com] I can't even find any source code.

        • Re:Mysid (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:49PM (#40507247)

          The NeoOffice project (more-or-less OS X native port of OpenOffice; deliberately not providing a link here because the stunt pulled by the devs at the beginning of 2012 makes them weasels in my book) recently switched to an arrangement similar to this, except those guys are far worse than the developer in TFA (who is actually being perfectly reasonable, IMHO). Essentially, the donation in this case buys you the time savings of not having to compile yourself, and some measure of assurance that the binary is compiled as intended by the developer. And if you're OK with setting up the build environment, running makefiles, and taking the time to run the build, then great.

          The Neo binaries used to be free. Somewhere around the end of 2011/beginning of 2012, without warning, they started requiring money for binaries of the new major-version release (3.2.x). They didn't bother to disable the update check in the latest 3.1.x binaries, nor to modify it to say something like: "NOTE: subsequent updates will be pay only." The weaselly thing is that they describe this as a "voluntary donation" -- no kidding. You can't download the binaries (nor post to most of the forums) without a donation. All of which would be only mildly annoying if the source, which is available via anonymous CVS and includes the makefiles, were actually possible to build by following the published instructions. Unfortunately, it isn't: quite a few people have tried (myself included), and all independently arrived at the same conclusion, which is that the source will absolutely not build as published. (Search the macosx-talk [omnigroup.com] archives and see for yourself.)

          In short, it seems quite clear that the Neo devs are deliberately doing the absolute bare minimum to satisfy the GPL requirements (and to be able to use a ".org" domain, which may have significant tax implications) -- maybe not even that. I suspect they know damn well that the source won't build according to the instructions, even if you follow them to the letter. "Disingenuous" doesn't even begin to cover it.

          By comparison, the developer in this case is being very transparent and upfront with his reasons and intentions. Kudos to him!

          --Tim

          • by jbolden (176878)

            You are right. I was thinking of that example myself. I had donated to NeoOffice once prior to the switch after using it a few times. I've actually paid twice since the switch, though less money. At this point of I just think of Neo-Office as inexpensive semi-commercial software. RedHat, JBOSS, Open-Xchange... use this model as well.

            Anyway Neo is still a much better product than Open Office. There are some serious runtime bugs in Mac Base that Neo gets rid of that cost me several hours using OO.

          • by synthespian (563437) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @05:37PM (#40507471)

            I have a beef with opinions such as yours. You seem to imply the value of having source code is one of having the regalities of a freeloader. That is to say, we must have the source code, so some dude who specializes in repackaging make us a nice binary, because all we care about is "apt-get install my-freeloading-shit".

            To which I say: no! The value of source code is that if you would like to see the code, to learn how it was done, so that perhaps you can not only just use it, but contribute back, then you might want the source code. This "contract" may or may not make your life easy. The whole idea, when back in the BSD Unix days (the people who invented this open source thing), was one of learning and cooperation.

            Now, if you think I'm some sort of idealist hippie neckbeard, then read my other post (the one in which I propose proprietary binaries + updates with source code with a BSD license - which would allow that, instead of the infamous GPL. This empowers the individual developer. Read: money.)

            In fact, if the developer wants to makes some money off his own software (which might exclude install scripts and makefiles), then who is to say he can't put food on his table, because some free software freeloading unemployed student, living in his parent's home doesn't like it and think it goes against "freedom"?

          • by Wordplay (54438)

            (and to be able to use a ".org" domain, which may have significant tax implications)

            There are no requirements to be a non-profit to use the .org domain. It's a recommendation only. Craigslist is probably the best-known example of a commercial company using one as their primary.

          • In short, it seems quite clear that the Neo devs are deliberately doing the absolute bare minimum to satisfy the GPL requirements (and to be able to use a ".org" domain, which may have significant tax implications)

            You don't have to meet requirements to have a .ORG domain anymore; commercial enterprises can register .ORG domains and use them. If the developer is not providing the exact build scripts and exact source code, then he is not following the GPL; the GPL requires that the exact source code (incl

          • by pongo000 (97357)

            You can't download the binaries (nor post to most of the forums) without a donation.

            And what prevents you from distributing the binaries under the GPL? Is this forbidden?

            At any rate, I've found LibreOffice to work just fine on my MacBook, and I would suggest others who are disappointed with NeoOffice's bone-headed move switch over as well. This, BTW, from one who truly donated voluntarily to NeoOffice...

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            In short, it seems quite clear that the Neo devs are deliberately doing the absolute bare minimum to satisfy the GPL requirements (and to be able to use a ".org" domain, which may have significant tax implications)

            I'm not an expert on domain names, but I'm pretty sure that anyone can get a .org domain if they want, and I don't think there's any requirements about being a non-profit nor are there any tax implications involved. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. My first employer out of college, a smal

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        By only providing the binaries to donors, it looks like you are only charging nontechnical users, while more technically inclined users get it for free.

        which is in practice essentially the entire software industry + the pirate bay.

        Admittedly there is a certain element of risk associated with using the pirate bay, but that doesn't seem to have acted as much of a deterrent, and the technical barriers between being able to build something from source and being able to download from TPB are quite a bit different, but now you're shifting tolerances around

      • Re:Mysid (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mwvdlee (775178) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:24PM (#40507089) Homepage

        Think "car analogy" and you can fill in the blanks yourself.

        This is how things work in the world; if you are an expert in a certain field, you'll benefit from being an expert in that field.

      • By only providing the binaries to donors, it looks like you are only charging nontechnical users, while more technically inclined users get it for free.

        You're on a roll.

        Tell me, which of those categories is more numerous? Which would, due to their l334t sk1lz, figure out how get it for free anyway?

      • Re:Mysid (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BronsCon (927697) <social@bronstrup.com> on Saturday June 30, 2012 @05:48PM (#40507509) Journal
        By charging a small fee to those most likely to require technical support, it looks like you are covering your support costs in the most fair manner possible. Hmm?
    • by bmo (77928)

      >The problem with that is... they don't get the binaries, they can't try out the software and learn how good it is.

      Sure they can.

      They can compile it their own damn selves.

      --
      BMO

      • The problem with that is... they don't get the binaries, they can't try out the software and learn how good it is.

        Sure they can.
        They can compile it their own damn selves.

        I'm glad we're not talking about distribution of the compiler, then.
        Imagine if it had some weirdness which only allowed it to be compiled by itself...

    • by shentino (1139071)

      And with commercial software you don't get JACK if you don't pay up.

      So this method isn't really worse than the status quo.

  • Bad Idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    All this will really do is decrease your user-base. If I download some source and it's lacking the necessary scripts to compile and install the thing, I move on and find another solution that does what I need. I don't have time to write my own make files to get the thing working.
    • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelJ (140077) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:05PM (#40506983)

      I don't have time to write my own make files to get the thing working.

      So you're too cheap to give some money to the person who's offering to do all that work for you?

      • by Asic Eng (193332)

        Well, if you know that this solves your problem, then you might be willing to spend money. You have to find out first, though. So let's say there are twenty programs which might be suitable or maybe not. You need to evaluate them - read the docs, look a screen shots, try them out. Which one would you try last? The one which is the most hassle to evaluate and/or costs you money to try, maybe?

        Even with binaries you may need this new library and that update any further barriers will make the package even les

      • I never said I wouldn't give money to a project that is easy to use and install, but only after I know if it does what I need it to do. You're just making assumptions. If I can't test his software first, I'm not donating. I'll donate to a different solution, one that doesn't play games to try and solicit donations.
      • by westlake (615356)

        So you're too cheap to give some money to the person who's offering to do all that work for you?

        He is saying he doesn't have the time or the money to do this on spec.

    • Re:Bad Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rubycodez (864176) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:10PM (#40507019)

      so what? smaller paying userbase is better than larger nonpaying one, IF your goal is to make money. but some of us have other goals with the software we give away.

    • by p0p0 (1841106)
      Where are you pulling this from? He said he's releasing the source, but charging for a pre-compiled version. What is so hard to understand? If you don't know how to compile from source, then you essentially pay him to compile for you.
      • He said "I build and maintain the “official” installers and packages and provide them, to those that contribute." What does he mean by "official installers" ? I took it to mean make files / install scripts. As in, if it were as easy as just ./configure; make; make-install; then what's the point of charging for the binaries?
        • by p0p0 (1841106)
          Officicial installers mean in this case, compiled by the person who wrote the code instead of someone mirroring or forking his code. It's just that simple.

          It's basically just donation.
          • Okay then this whole "software model" is pretty much a non issue. Everyone who would donate in a regular model will still donate, everyone who wouldn't normally donate will just compile from source. The intersection of people who don't know how to compile from source, and those who are likely to download open source software is approximately zero, and those who are likely to donate in this kind of model is approximately zero. Everyone who doesn't know how to compile from source who would download this softw
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Don't you do this anyway? Accepting binaries from the web is inherently risky.

  • by pnot (96038) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:01PM (#40506945)

    Am I right in thinking that this is basically the deal with Red Hat Enterprise Linux? Seems to work for them despite the existence of White Box Linux.

    I think I've seen a large scientific graphic package with similar terms. It was easy for me to find third-party binaries, but evidently brand-name recognition was sufficient to keep some people buying from the developer.

    • Are you thinking of PyMOL? You're thinking of PyMOL, aren't you.
    • by pnot (96038)

      I think I've seen a large scientific graphic package with similar terms. It was easy for me to find third-party binaries, but evidently brand-name recognition was sufficient to keep some people buying from the developer.

      Replying to myself because I found it: QtiPlot [proindependent.com].

      "By subscribing to a binaries maintenance contract you receive the right to download all releases available during the subscription period together with technical support. When your subscription period ends, the binaries you have downloaded and installed on your system remain fully functional and you can still use QtiPlot, but if you wish to have access to the updated versions, you will need to renew your maintenance contract."

      So the maintenance contract might

      • This might work for Linux too, because the repackagers are usually a few versions late (Debian? Oh, gawd).

    • Re:Works for RHEL (Score:4, Informative)

      by Curupira (1899458) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:39PM (#40507175)
      Also, isn't that exactly what XChat [xchat.org] currently does? Of course, there are a lot of unnoficial windows binaries (listed on Wikipedia and all).
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      RHEL has closed source software in it. This is nothing like buying RHEL. What you can download from RH is not what you buy.

  • What about this model? Anyone can download the source for free and they're on their own. Donors can get a precompiled binary custom-tailored to their system as needed, and a direct line to you whereby you provide support for installation problems, bug fixes, feature requests, etc.
    • Speaking from experience, I can safely say that model simply is not sustainable for a one-person operation, if the system you've made achieves any degree of usage, but the not enough paying customers to allow you to devote yourself to it full time. In addition the types of people willing to pay for support are the same type who will need SLAs to be maintained.

      In addition - as a solo operation, your time is necessarily limited. Which means the time you spend supporting and helping people is time you are *no

    • There are some kinds of software that don't need a lot of individualized support, such as video games. What revenue model would you recommend for an open-source game?
  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:04PM (#40506975) Homepage
    Not sure of how successful it is, but Colloquy for the iPhone is a pay for version, and the source is readily available. Perhaps code signing and walled gardens need to exist for this model to be successful, also release source a version behind the binaries would probably help, too.
  • Donation? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:09PM (#40507017)

    I don't have a problem with this business model - it seems interesting and I hope it works.

    However, I hate it when people use the word "donation" to mean a mandatory payment. A donation is a voluntary gift.

  • This worked fine for me with PyKota and other printing utilities that I'm selling as binaries for a number of years now from http://www.pykota.com/ [pykota.com]

    All my software is Free Software licensed under the terms of the GNU GPL, and is freely available to all from subversion. People wanting tarballs or Debian packages can pay.

    Additionally I used to sell support contracts and consulting work, but I had to stop when moving to another part of the world.

    So yes it's a model which works. I don't have to rely on this for

  • Brilliant and obvious idea. At first, I thought this would only apply to Windows or Mac platforms. However, once you realize that Linux distros are always late in their software repackaging, this might work on Linux too.

  • Binaries for those who "donate"? You mean "pay". This sort of thing is friction, and it always drives away some customers. Some people will be put off by a nag screen or crippleware scheme. A bad interface is enough to drive users away. I've also bought games that didn't have some features implemented yet. They fobbed customers off with the excuse that it was a bug, and released a "patch" several months later. Stinks to find that out after you've paid. Now I never buy software unless I can try it fi

  • So it sounds like a great model to me.

  • ... I provided very little direct benefit to people who donate ...

    Apparently he feels guilty for not making a difference between donaters and non-donaters.
    He shouldn't. People who donate do this as a thank you, including the whole binary part.
    Not all people are able to build the software. However they contribute to the whole community in another way. Seems to me he is missing the big picture of Open Source.

  • by millette (56354) <robin@@@millette...info> on Saturday June 30, 2012 @04:45PM (#40507219) Homepage Journal

    "Sveasoft is a small company which makes its living by selling supported versions of Linux-based firmware for a number of wireless routers. Paying subscribers can download current versions of the firmware, which adds a number of features not normally found on those routers. They can grab updated versions as they become available, and participate in support forums as well.
    Sveasoft's products are based on free software - Linux in particular. The company's approach to GPL compliance has raised eyebrows for a couple of years now. One tactic employed by the company has been to terminate support accounts for any subscriber who further redistributes the Sveasoft binaries or source. The GPL says that customers are entitled to that code (for the GPL-licensed portions of Sveasoft's products, at least), and that they have the right to pass it on to others. Sveasoft has responded that, when this redistribution happens, it is no longer obligated to provide future versions of the software. The company has employed various schemes for determining which subscriber has redistributed any particular version, and has been quite aggressive at shutting down accounts.", quoted from http://lwn.net/Articles/178550/ [lwn.net]

  • This is a dumb idea. You'll just end up killing all traffic to your own website, and some other site offering binary downloads will end up getting all the visitors. And all of the community as well, nobody will visit the forum or bug tracker from a site that refuses to give out binaries, they'll communicate at the other site instead.

  • PyMol (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ubi_NL (313657) <joris&ideeel,nl> on Saturday June 30, 2012 @05:00PM (#40507297) Journal

    PyMol does this and its the de-facto standard in protein structure visualisation

  • Back in the day you had to compile every little nitpick bullshit thing, and only a few hard core nerds bothered with it. If you want to slash your userbase, and community knock yourself out. I wont have any part of it, and I refuse to purchase a binary under the guise of a donation, I dont like being lied to.

  • What is the product and who does it target?

    Even in the Linux universe not everyone confident working with source.

    The "donation" that delivers the goods in the only form a user can comfortably deal with is more properly called a "sale."

We don't know who it was that discovered water, but we're pretty sure that it wasn't a fish. -- Marshall McLuhan

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