Free as in speech, Fair as in trade

"Fairware" is a term I coined in 2010 to designate open source development of software targeting a wide audience (typically published in the form of "Shareware" in the proprietary world) with expectation of fair compensation from users. It's a mix of two driving principles:

1. Intellectual property doesn't make sense (at least in the software world). The protection of intellectual property causes much grief all over the world, all the time. Software patents threatens developers at every corner, like land mines. Proprietary licensing makes developers create the same software over and over again in a silly competition game, making the end user suffer in the end (for not having access to the collaborative effort instead of the competitive one). Some users fall in the hands of some unethical software companies that will squeeze every penny they can from them, taking advantage from the fact that they're captive users.

2. Developers have to eat. It's hard for open source developers doing generic software targeting a wide audience to get compensated for their work. Sure, they may receive some donations from users, but certainly not enough to allow them to work full time on their applications. Because of this, they only work on their open source software in their spare time, and this generally reduces the quality of it. Chances are, if they could, they'd quit their day job and work on their software full time, creating a fair alternative to their proprietary competitors, slowly making intellectual property irrelevant, but money unfortunately flows towards these proprietary software developers, starving the overall open source effort.

Fairware is open source software with the assumption that some users are fair. If we can assume that (and I sure hope we can), we can build a system helping them to "express their fairness" (to contribute). With the typical "Donate" button, figuring out what is the fair thing to do is hard, even for a fair user (read this article for more details). Who worked on the project? How many hours? How much did they receive yet? These are all questions that need to be answered before determining a fair amount of money to give to a project. Chances are, even when users are fair, laziness takes over and these users end up not donating, for lack of information to make a correct judgement.

How does Fairware work? All hours developers invest in projects are public, as well as their hourly rate expectations. All contributions from fair users are also instantly made public (anonymously). When contributions are made, they are allocated to unpaid development hours (see the F.A.Q. for details). Everyone can thus easily know how many hours have yet to be compensated. Also, users are made aware that the software is Fairware with a dialog that pops up for users who haven't contributed yet, reminding them of expectations from developers. With enough fair users, such a system allows open source developers working on software for a wide audience to do so full time. I don't know about you, but I find that awesome.

An opt-in system. After a couple of testing and tweaking of the fairware system, I realized that many users didn't want to hear about intellectual property and just wanted to know how much it costs. By trying to force them to learn about fairware, there's a risk of alienating them and thus turning away a user who would otherwise pay for the software. This is why I've made the fairware system optional. By default, HS apps behave like shareware apps: You can try it for free, but unless you pay for it, there are demo limitations. This way, we don't confuse newcomers ("An open source app for which I have to pay?! What is this new devilry?"). Now that you've read about fairware, if you want to enable the fairware mode, all you have to do is to open the registration key dialog, type "fairware" in any of the two fields and click submit.

Being phased out. Even though I still think it was a neat idea, I'm phasing it out starting 2013-03-16.


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