Free Stuff
According to a study by the Business Software Alliance and IDC, piracy has cost the software industry a staggering $40-billion – which is a mountain of Windows, Office and other high-end products. Aside from the fact it’s a huge problem that shows few, if any, signs of going away soon, it also puts the spotlight on how the high-tech industry is losing the war against free (aka WAF). Not only do people want to have free software but they want free Web 2.0 services and, according to a Forrester report, free video as well.

How did we get here? I can remember the early days of the Web when freeware – usually utilities – were all the rage as long as you were willing to spend long periods of time for them to download using an agonizingly slow dial-up connection. Today, free is everywhere and everything. How many useful Web 2.0 services can actually charge you right out of game as opposed to pulling you in with a free service and hoping you’ll upgrade to a more feature-rich version? (As if!) When it comes to video, a bunch of major players (Google, Apple, NBC) are counting on the fact people will pay for downloads and streams. But if Forrester’s report is anywhere accurate, this fee-based model is going out the door – and soon.

Can software avoid the free phenomena? Clearly not despite massive legal and marketing efforts by the large players to attack the problem. There are many people who think nothing of using a pirated, copied or free version of Windows, Office, PhotoShop, etc. In China, more than 80% of all software being used is apparently pirated.

Is there any way to rescue ourselves from free? I mean, free doesn’t pay the bills, keep the lights on, cover the salaries for developers, marketers and CEOs. Free doesn’t inspire innovation (other than perhaps two guys working in their basement on the next great video-sharing service). Free is a scourge as much as everyone, including myself, likes the idea of free. Maybe it’s advertising that saves the day. Maybe it’s the idea targeted advertising can replace/supplement having to pay for something. For example, what if Photoshop users had to see targeted relevant ads from graphic arts suppliers, printers, etc. if they were using a free version.

For more, check out InfoWorld.

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