Quid Pro Quo

torstaina, huhtikuuta 24, 2008

"Quid Pro Quo" is the saying used to justify the recent switch from LGPL to GPLv3 in Ext 2.1. It does seem pretty fair for a software company to spend a few hundred dollars on a commercial license when the library saves thousands in development costs. Some software companies spend more on free soda for the staff than they will on the license. So good for the guys at Ext, they built a pretty decent product and they deserve to make some money. They are a real company now that they are earning revenue from their product.
I bet they, the founders of Ext LLC, sat in terror that they would have a massive revolt and that no one would buy their product. That their community would feel alienated and upset at suddenly being forced to pay a pretty inconsequential cost and then drop the library from their current projects. Sure, some people will drop Ext as a result of the change- that's a given. Many current Ext users will think about whether to use Ext in new projects, but even then it is likely that people will cough up the money because it still saves time.
However, being a software components company comes with new responsibilities like great technical support, fast patches, great documentation, rich example code and steady release cycles of new killer UI widgets and features. Failing in these areas means that a competitor, like Dojo or jQuery, can come along and steal your customers because customers are very forgiving of code they are getting for free vs. code they are paying for.
Having bad or mediocre documentation is fine when your product is free. Having slightly better documentation than your other free competitors gives you an advantage. Having slightly better documentation for your commercial product than your free competitors may not be seen as even being acceptable. In fact, it may annoy customers that they are spending money and getting very little more in return. One thing that should be clear is at that the moment people start paying for something they immediately earn the right to complain about that thing endlessly and expect you to fix it.
I'm curious about how adoption rates will change. Ext is damn good and cuts development time, but will they even get to compete with other libraries during initial library evaluations? I evaluate libraries and server software by looking at the feature list and the license; not by installing and trying it. I almost always pass on GPL and other virally licensed components when there is something else available. I wonder how many other developers do the same?
I'm also curious about whether the developer community will continue to write about Ext. Ext got a lot of help from the developer community through blogs, posts in Ext's forums and patches. Should we continue to do so? Wouldn't we just be helping individuals to become wealthier while we get little or nothing in return? They are expecting "Quid Pro Quo" and so shouldn't we who were supporting the Ext community? More importantly, aren't we paying them to provide high quality support and examples? Isn't it their responsibility to document how event models and key stroke filtering works now that I'm paying a commercial license? Isn't that what I'm paying for?

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