The Lure of Free Software
I just recently purchased a myriad of software for operating my MicroISV and accelerating my time to market. I spent a considerable amount of money on these intangible, invisible goods. Where I would normally hesitate to spend a few hundred dollars on real physical goods for my business, I find a way to rationalize the cost of an information good. Even stranger, often I regret the software purchase, since I wasn’t able to put it to effective use—this is usually not the case with physical goods. Physical goods are also easier to resell, not the least because physical goods are sold not licensed.
Eventually, the impact of software purchases on the bank account becomes apparent. While at Microsoft, I was spoiled. I was able to get Microsoft software up to a tenth of the retail cost. As an ex-employee and member of the Microsoft Alumni Network (MSA), I still do get heavily discounted Microsoft software at employee prices but with a little over half the budget of regular employees.
I spent a little over $300 for my last MSDN subscription, the price Microsoft employees and contractors can get it at. Since I am neither now, I have the option of using the ISV Empower program to obtain an MSDN subscription or getting a special discount for ex-employees recently negotiated by MSA.
The perks distorted my buying patterns, causing me to rely on the less powerful but easier Microsoft packages (eg, tax and financial software) in place of the industry standard packages. I, for example, held on Microsoft Digital Image Suite for some time before I actually purchased Adobe Photoshop.
The perks clouded my thinking and probably those of many other Microsoft employees. It’s easy to disregard open source software as “inferior” software and not a threat, if we don’t feel the financial impact of purchasing software. (I put “inferior” in quotes to indicate the perception from within Microsoft, not necessarily the reality.)
If it weren’t for the perks I still enjoy, I can imagine myself opting for freer alternatives (StarOffice, GIMP) especially if I had a number of employees. Human nature dictates that I care less about employees’ experiences with less usable software than I do my own, while the almighty dollar demands my constant worship. I would still stick with Microsoft Windows operating system, though, as I have little choice, if I want to sell a commercially viable application.
This, apparently, is the motivation for the ISV Empower program, enabling new developers to get started developing commercial software for the Windows platform without forgoing a sizable fraction of one’s salary before seeing any revenues.