It’s free, but do you mind paying?

Here’s something I’d like to see more of: UberWriter is free (open source, GPL3), yet by default if you go to install it you’ll have to pay $5.  The old “free as in freedom of speech” rather than “free as in free beer”.

From the creator’s point of view, “Free as in speech” means several things:

  • The project is open to collaboration – if you have something to add, please do!
  • If you see a different future for this project than I do, you don’t have to ask my permission.  You can build on what I’ve started and do something new and different.  I may or may not want what to merge your changes back in.
  • If you’re not someone that’s likely to pay me money (you have a different native language, you live in an area I can’t sell to, you’re don’t have enough money…) then that’s okay, feel free to take what I’ve done anyway and see if you can build on it.
  • If you’re really poor (developing world, unfunded startup, student) then you can still use the software and pay it back (or pay it forward) later.  I’m just glad people are using (and enjoying) something I’ve made.
  • If you’re worried about security, you can know exactly what your software is doing by getting a developer to audit the code.  I promise I’m not working for your corrupt government.
  • If I ever close shop and discontinue the product, you can keep using it, without having to worry about where to get new copies.  Feel free to make new copies, or to hire a developer to maintain it, even to release your own version.  I promise not to get angry.

But from the creator’s point of view, “free as in beer” has several negative implications:

  • I don’t have a strong plan to make money off this, so it will remain a side-project or a hobby.  I might love it, but I’ll never give it the time, money and support it needs to be amazing.
  • I have to pay my bills.  So the work I do that pays bills will always be more important than the work I do for this project.

Commercial projects that succeed (especially software projects) often have a founder who is hugely passionate about it, and absolutely stoked that they get to work on their passion as their full time job.  For many open source developers, this isn’t a reality.

So what if you want to balance those two things:

  1. Create, invent, make art.  And give it away to the world in the most generous, considerate way possible.
  2. Make money so that I can continue to develop this, perfecting it and supporting it and giving it every opportunity to succeed.

Well, that’s what UberWriter is doing.  It has all the same freedoms as “free as in speech”.  And if you really don’t want to pay for it, you can find ways to get it for free, and that’s allowed too, it’s not illegal and it won’t make the creator cry.  But, if you want to get it the easiest way, and you want to support the developer, it’s $5.

I hope he does well, makes some money, maybe even is able to make it his main job – so that he is empowered to make some good software become really great software.  And I hope to see more people balance this act of being generous with earning a living… myself included.

The story of the millions of dollars

Matthew 25 contains one of Jesus’ most well known stories, and it goes like this:

There was a rich man who was about to go out on a long journey.  He called 3 of his workers to him, and entrusted them with his wealth.  He gave each of them a different amount depending on what he knew they were up for – the first he gave $5,000,000, the second he gave $2,000,000, the third he gave $1,000,000.  (A “talent” in the bible was 20 years wages.  20 years * average Perth salary of $50,000 = $1,000,000). Certainly a lot of money – even for the guy who got the least.  And apparently the rich man trusted each of their abilities enough that he thought it safe to leave it with them while he went away.

The first two went out, and put the money to work.  Whether they invested it, or started a business, or just did clever trading, I don’t know.  But whatever they did, worked – they doubled the money their boss had entrusted to them.

The third guy though was scared of screwing up.  In the story he says “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”  It seemed like this guy felt that no matter what he did, he couldn’t live up to the (in his mind) unrealistic expectations of his boss.

Needless to say, the rich man came back, and was pretty stoked with the results of the first two – and promised them bigger and better opportunities.  The third guy however he was angry with.  He didn’t challenge the accusation that he expects a lot – but he challenged the guys response.

The third man saw the high expectations, considered them unrealistic, panicked, and went with what he considered the least risky option.  Another possibility is that he was just lazy – and this whole thing was his excuse for not doing anything.

I’ve spent a bit of time tonight pondering this expectation from God.  In the Hebrew Bible harvesting what someone else planted was a form of oppression – you were getting rich from someone else’s hard work.  Is that what this man is accusing his boss of?  Is that what God does, comes in to profit from our hard work?

Well not quite, the boss did invest.  He didn’t come asking for money when he did nothing in the first place.  He gave the guy a million dollars, and entrusted it to him – presumably so that he would work with it and increase it.  From what I can tell, wealth is something we can generate, and it doesn’t have to be generated by stealing from other people.  And the boss gave him money because he knew this guy was capable of generating wealth, to the same capacity as the other two – he could get a 100% return on investment too.

God wasn’t selfishly coming to collect what he had no right to – he gave this guy something to work with, and the man did no work.

Whether he didn’t because he was honestly scared, and the fear of failure seized him, or whether it was laziness and the fear was merely an excuse – this man was capable of generating a return, but he didn’t. He was capable of doing equally great work with what he was entrusted with, but he didn’t.  And so he was shown the door.

We know from other parables that God isn’t concerned about financial return on investment.  Rather, he wants to see us doing good work, and wants to see us working faithfully with what he’s entrusted to us.

Think about an investor.  Some are out there to make a quick buck, but some are people who already have a lot of money, and they invest not to get more, (they already have enough), but instead they invest to set other people up for success. The money they give out is to help other people get off the ground and do amazing work.  But if the person they invest in squander the money, do you think they will continue to invest?  No, they’ll pull their money out.

I think that’s what’s happening here.  God wants to set us up for success.  He’s not in this to profit from us, rather, he’s in this to see us succeed. The first two guys in the story saw what God entrusted them with, and did amazing work.  The third guy was also entrusted with a lot, but he did nothing with it.  He ignored what the boss had entrusted to him, and so in a way, rejected the vote of confidence.  The boss gave him money because he knew he was good enough, but the man rejected that, and did nothing anyway.  When the time came to show where the money had gone, the boss saw it wasn’t getting used, he withdrew the investment – and put the money somewhere where he was confident it would be put to good use.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Luke 12:48