Why are we so cheap with software?

On twitter today, Ayende asked the question:

should I offer a personal edition for NH Prof? If so, at what cost?

If you’re not familiar with NHibernate Profiler, it’s Ayende’s for-profit, non-OSS NHibernate profiling tool.  Honestly, it looks like it could save Ayende probably 10 support emails a day, given the level of detail the profiler gives (and prescriptive guidance).

Right now, a beta license comes in at $195, full version at $280.  The interesting part in all this is Ayende’s public foray into commercial product development, where he asks questions like:

  • Should this be open source?
  • Should I use a licensing server?
  • How much should I charge?

For some strange reason, cost of software seems to be an issue with developers.  I talked to a few designer buddies, and they’ve spent thousands of dollars on software licenses, per seat.  An MSDN license isn’t cheap, and many companies go after partner status just for the licensing benefits.  But why?  I’ve worked at companies where I had to justify a purchase of ReSharper, but they were more than happy to send me out on a week-long pointless WCF training, costing thousands of dollars.

When I was in the semiconductor industry, software licenses dwarfed individual salaries.  One tool I used for laying out gates and such was well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per seat.

Some of the concerns people forwarded Ayende included the TestDriven.NET example – if you offer a personal edition of free, 95% (unscientific) of your downloads will be from developers using at work, but angling to get a free tool.

So while developers are cheap, so too are our archaic purchasing departments, who have ridiculous training budgets but balk at buying a tool that offers an immediate increase in productivity.

I spend hundreds and hundreds each year on technical books, but I pause before buying a personal VisualSVN license.  I have no idea why, but I also dropped a couple hunny on all sorts of FPS games I play once and drop, or never even finish (looking at you, Doom 3).

So what’s going on, are we conditioned to get software for free?  Are companies afraid of purchasing software, for fear of needing to buy it for everyone?

I remember a company that didn’t have the cajones to purchase a real merge tool, even though a senior lead was wasting his time merging with TFS’s inadequate merge tool.  It would have paid for itself within a day, given rates and salaries.

Why so cheap?

Transactions and the check-in dance