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Free Software Customers can be High Maintenance

In a recent blog, Tyler Nichols recounts his experience with his freemium Letter from Santa website. Over 120,000 unique visitors created 50,000 plus free letters to kids. Paying customers received a higher resolution letter, a personalized envelope, and a door hanger.

Nichols found free customers were higher maintenance and more demanding than the paying customers. A small number of paying customers asked questions while hundreds of free ones did. And when following up with a email, paying customers never flagged his emails as spam, while many free customers did and actually complained.

His experience reflects my own experience with giving people access to free software that I have developed. For example, I have developed many GNOME Shell extensions. For some reason, many people feel that it is perfectly acceptable to ask me to develop specific extensions or customize an existing extension to their specific requirements. When the question of reimbursement for my time arises, they are quite offended that I am not prepared to do such work for free.

When a new version of the GNOME Shell was released last November, which required all GNOME Shell extensions to be changed because of a major design change in the extension model, it was amazing how many people thought that I should stop everything else that I was doing and immediately update my set of GNOME Shell extensions (approx. 80 hours of work) simply because they were using one or more of my extensions.

Interestingly, many people are quite vocal about the fact that they think a particular extension should work one way while I, the actual developer, think it should work the way I wish it to work. They are perfectly free to write their own extension, or modify the source code to my extension, but prefer instead to simply criticize my extension. The classical tire kicker!

I recently added a Paypal button to my GNOME Shell extensions and simply point out that a suitable Paypal donation will move their requirement to the front of the line (or queue for our British readers.)

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