Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

I Wish I Could Pay for Software

Actually, I do pay for software, but not as often as I used to–and the reason is peculiar. This has been especially true since I started using Android on my Samsung Note 4 phone, and more recently, a Galaxy Tab S3.

Now, I still pay for commercial Windows software, like the brand new Affinity Publisher, which might be enough of a competitor to InDesign for me to dump InDesign and be rid of Adobe’s regular copy-protection tantrums. Android apps are a whole ‘nother universe, and in recent years, many of the apps I’ve tried are free–with ads. Used to be, you could choose between having ads displayed, or paying for the app. I’m seeing more and more apps that simply display ads, without any option for me paying to remove the ads. I found this puzzling. Why turn down user money?

I’m sure I’m not be the first to suggest this, but I have a theory: There’s cash flow in ads. But before I unpack that, some history. Back in the ’90s, software was evolving furiously, often to keep pace with Windows. So we eagerly forked over money every couple of years, sometimes considerable money, for new major releases of Office, WordPerfect, Lotus, and the other bit-behemoths of that era. I’m pretty sure upgrades were a huge part of those firms’ revenues.

Today, not so much. I used Office 2000 from 1999 until 2012. That’s when I bought Office 2007 so I could work on a collaborative book project for which Office 2007 was the minimum requirement. Why did I use Office 2000 for 13 years? It did what I needed it to do, and I was good at it. A friend of mine still uses Office 97, for the same reasons: It does whatever he needs to do (which is nothing exotic) and he knows it inside and out. So Microsoft got his money 22 years ago, and nothing since.

That’s not unethical. Carol and I still use things we got as wedding gifts 43 years ago. The Realistic stereo I bought in 1976 is still our main stereo. On the other hand, firms that used to rely on two- or three-year upgrade cycles are finding that people are using software they’ve had for eight or ten years or more. The big companies’ solution was Software as a Service; i.e., the subscription model. You pay for the software every year, and if you stop paying, they disable it the next time the software phones home to check if you’re a deadbeat or not.

To be charitable: Screw that. My primary objection to SAAS is that the skills I’ve developed on Office (or other packages like InDesign) belong to me. Disable the software I’ve paid for, and you’re basically stealing my skillset. So I’ll have nothing to do with SAAS, and may well use Office 2007 for the rest of my life.

As I expected, pay-once packages like Affinity Publisher are popping up to compete with SAAS products like InDesign. I already have the Atlantis word processor, which actually has features that Word 2007 does not. If I need a more ramcharged spreadsheet, they’re out there. But…why? I like what I have, and currently, what I have is plenty good.

So. Back to Android. Most Android apps are now ad-supported. A few years ago, I bought a few games and some oddments for five-ish bucks each. I’m sure a lot of other Android users did the same thing. But once the vendors get your five bucks, that’s all they ever get. I have some sympathy: They provide updates, which are worth something. I’ve bought InDesign four different times, and Atlantis twice. But even with a user base as large as Android, five bucks doesn’t go very far. Worse, it makes for very unreliable cash flow. The ad business model helps here. What happens is that the vendors of ad-supported software get an ongoing dribble of money from advertisers. The dribble from any single instance of a product is small. Put together fifty or a hundred thousand of those dribbles, though, and you’re talking real money. Better still, pauses in that multitude of dribbles average out into a reasonably predictable cash flow stream.

I dislike ads, especially animated ads, double-especially force-you-to-watch ads, and triple-especially ads with audio. I’ve been suspicious of ads ever since Forbes served up malware through ads on its Web site–after demanding that readers disable their ad blockers. This is still a problem on Android to a great extent, though the mechanisms are complex and far from obvious.

There’s not much to be done about ads on Android apps. The money from selling ads is too good, compared to getting five bucks once and nothing ever again. I avoid malware primarily by installing all updates to the OS and downloading only well-known brand-name apps, and only through the Play store. That’s all anybody can do.

It’s an odd thing to think, but I think it often: Sigh. I miss the days when software actually cost money.


  1. TRX says:

    > I’m pretty sure upgrades were a huge part of those firms’ revenues.

    Borland’s upgrades were frequent and expensive, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when they offered to “upgrade” Microsoft Pascal users to Turbo Pascal for less than the price they wanted for me, a long-time, multiply-upgraded user, to pay.

    No. There was nothing there I had to have, and the old version still worked just fine. F you, Borland.

    Then came Delphi, which was just nuts.

  2. Jeff,

    Just found your blog from a link on Kindle, and with minor alterations the first 4 posts could appear in my biography. I was a mainframe operator for GM in 1968, and a programmer, analyst, systems engineer, consultant, CIO in the ensuing 48 years. I miss owning software too, though for my use case, at least, OSX and iOS don’t seem quite as fraught. I run MS Office 2007 on an emulator under Windows 7. I hate Adobe, however, for obsoleting Photoshop Elements. Now even Reader tries to phone home every time I boot, but Little Snitch and X-Fence stop that. Only use it if forced too, and there are alternatives.

    I celebrated my 50th wedding anniversary in December.

    I can glance up at my dog-eared copy of Bored of the Rings as I type this. I also thought it was hilarious, but haven’t reread it in 20 years. I remember Rebozo’s first name.

    I stopped having to use my CPAP after a major operation and very difficult recovery caused me to lose over 50 pounds. From 185 to 130. Now back at 150. Waist from 36 to 32. Also, no longer need blood pressure meds or statins. There’s something to be said for weight loss.

    Thanks for the nostalgia.

    1. Hey! Welcome to the Duntemann Nuthouse! Adobe’s been over the line in my book for a number of years, but I have the issue that I mentioned briefly in the post: skills lock-in. I’ve been using InDesign since 1999. It’s in my synapses. I’m going to take a run at re-educating my synapses with Affinity Publisher and see how that goes. I haven’t used Reader in a long time, and (given that I am not a fine artist) I don’t need Photoshop. I tweak photos with Irfanview. If I were to take some sort of course on photo retouching, I would insist on something focused on Gimp or almost anything else that isn’t Adobe. Those guys are the Disney of software: Always terrified that somebody, somewhere, is using their software without explicit and constantly reaffirmed permission.

      These days, just knowing that I remember the name “Bebe Rebozo” and (worse) who he was makes me giggle. I had a Grundig tape recorder, and a Blaupunkt radio. I fired a friend’s Luger at the range some years back. Mercifully, I never attempted the Frug. Life in 1969 makes me grin in 2019, even things that didn’t make me grin in 1969. I lost two girlfriends that year, but met my wife. Life’s a mixed bag; see Darius Rucker’s wonderful country song, “This.”

      Glad you stopped by. Good luck and hope to see you again!

  3. Orvan Taurus says:

    I have yet to hear a *good* Linux phone, but the more Android apps go adware-only, the less polished a Linux Phone needs to be,. It eventually will only to be “less annoying” instead of “better.” And less annoying is fairly easy.

    1. TRX says:

      I’ve been seriously considering a Raspberry Pi with a 4G hat as a phone, and using a cheap wifi-only phone as the handset/terminal.

      I’d have to carry the handset *and* a brick-phone-sized lump with the Pi, given the battery requirements – the 4G hats seem to be power suckers. But the Pi could serve a standard Linux desktop over VNC, or one from home over a VPN.

      Maybe I need to look at the battery and charger requirements some more.

      I bought a smartphone almost a year ago, put LineageOS and F-Droid on it, but I still have to patch the source and rebuild the OS from scratch. (mostly, I want to make sure GPS is really, truly disabled, and that “off means off” as far as power…) But I’m still mistrustful of the whole service stack, which is backdoored all the way from the phone hardware to the service provider. I can’t guarantee security with the Pi, but it would be a *different* stack for them to try to weasel into, and hopefully more difficult, particularly if it reported being a current version of Android or EMUI when anyone asked…

      1. Orvan Taurus says:

        The PinePhone looks interesting, but I really want to hear from users before going with it. Got burned on something else, so NOT living on the bleeding edge or early adopter edge.

  4. Tom says:

    Radio Shack/Realistic. Brings back memories.

    Still have a nice sounding pair of Realistic MC-600 bookshelf speakers.

    It always amazed me how clueless some of th R/S workers could be.

  5. Thomas Dison says:

    In general, I avoid all “Freemium” software, where the idea is to get you hooked and then make you pay. Yeah… the first one is always free. I do tolerate app that I really like that have a small amount of NON-INTRUSIVE ads, though I would be willing to pay to have them removed.

    Maybe for Android, there should be a way to purchase an app, get no ads for XX number of month, followed by a NOMINAL fee for updates after that. If I really like the app, I would pay for that. In this case, as long as it was a $1 or $2 per year, I would be doing it to help the developer keep the lights on.

    I also was burned by Borland’s “give the enemy a better price than your homies'” strategy. And since then, they just gave up on me with their pay Emaracadero a bazillion dollars because we are all enterprise now. Forget that, I’ll take Lazarus and Free Pascal over that any day.

    1. For teaching people Pascal, or the concepts behind all programming, I can’t use a product that costs much money. I still like Delphi, but I don’t use it anymore. I’m not an enterprise developer. I teach people how computers (and programming) work. For that, Lazarus/FreePascal is ideal.

    2. TRX says:

      Yeah. And the market for “enterprise” level developers in Pascal is, what, several dozen people?

      The world went to C and the new-language-this-year, which is now Rust, I think. Doesn’t matter, it’ll be stone dead soon enough.

      I disliked C (and, honestly, the crowd of rabid advocates who knew no other language and couldn’t STFU) enough that when all the programming jobs went to C, I went to system administration instead. Yeah, I still had to deal with C on occasion, but I didn’t have to live with it…

      1. Amy Bowersox says:

        Actually, in terms of job availability, Java and Python seem to be winning that race. I have lots of experience with the former, and I’m now diving into the latter.

      2. Jason Kaczor says:

        Yes, unfortunately from my experience as a contract consultant since 1995, I have only ever found two “Enterprise” organizations that used Delphi/OP. Heh, I used to joke that I spent my career running away from C/C++ … ugh, macros, ugh, separated header files… C# gave me the Java syntax, but enough Pascal flavor to be workable – for awhile. Now… well, the only time I *get* to “code” anything is either PowerShell or JavaScript.

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