Wednesday, May 19, 2004
choose your style: neoclassical | blue | modern | nouveau

On $700 software

Vincent Flanders writes that "If I'm paying $700 for a software package, it better install like Photoshop and be as easy to use as Radio Userland or it has to kiss me where I can't. And send me flowers the next day."

I think this is wrong.

The only thing I expect, if I'm paying $700 for a software package, is that it be worth $700. If I buy a $700 program, and it promptly saves me $750, I'm as happy as a clam.

Free is not special.

I want the value of the software to exceed its price, whatever it is. The price point of zero is not more special than the price point of $736.29.

OK, sure, there's the nonlinear value of money. If the software costs more than your house, maybe you can't buy it, even though it would be profitable. But no personal software costs more than a house. Unless, of course, you're living outside the economy of the developed world: if the per capita income in your neighborhood is $350/year, your neighbors will have a hard time buying Photoshop, however profitable that might be for them.

Free is not better.

You want software that gives you the best return on your time and your money, the software that lets you get things done. If we're talking about software you use all the time -- weblog software, writing tools, personal information assistants -- the acquisition cost is nearly irrelevant.

Professor Clump works at Miskatonic University. She earns $65,000/year, and the University pays about $70,000/year for her office, facilities, support staff, benefits, and perks. She spends about 30 minutes a day, writing her weblog. What does her weblog cost? About $12,000/year.
Tom Clump, boy scientist, thinks that's a silly way to compute this. 'If Mom didn't have tenure', he says, 'she'd be bagging groceries.' (Tom, having been grounded after his science experiment burned a hole in the bedroom floor, does not hold his Mom in high esteem at present.) 180 hours at the local Museum of Fruits and Vegetables will earn Tom, or his mother, about $1,375.

It's not a gift

TANSTAFL: there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. And it wouldn't matter if there were, because zero is just another price tag.

There is nothing outside the economy.

Jill Walker is nervous because she wants to use a non-commercial license. Her weblog sometimes brings her speaking engagements, and so it is, in a sense, commercial. But, let's face it, everybody eats; it's hard to imagine any public act that could not have potential economic consequences. Of course, your writing may lead to speaking offers, employment offers, book contracts, lucrative Pentagon consulting contracts, and unexpected parcels of chocolate chip cookies. Everybody buys stuff, everybody pays, and in the long run the utility of everyone approaches zero.

But, while we're here, let's do the best we can. Use the tools, enjoy them, make beautiful things.