Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Free software

There has been a lot of excitement recently about the release of a Technology Preview of SDR-Radio.com, the new software defined radio console named, for some curious reason, after its website domain, which is being developed by Simon Brown HB9DRV of Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) fame.

What seems to have passed unnoticed so far is that, unlike HRD, SDR-Radio.com is not going to be freeware. A note in a corner of one page of the site says that licensing details are to be announced for the more advanced SDR platforms but soundcard (SoftRock) users will get a 30-day free trial after which the program will still run but with some serious nag-ware!

A few years ago Simon used to really get up my nose with his announcements of new versions of FT-817 Commander and HRD on various mailing lists. The announcements would always be accompanied by the information that the software was not merely free, but ***FREE*** software written by radio amateurs for radio amateurs. There used to be a page on the HRD website that was virtually a political statement, stating that ham radio software should be free, and that hams who charged for their programs were parasites (or something on those lines) taking money from the pockets of fellow hobbyists.

I remember this very well because at the time I was struggling to set up a software business to supplement my dwindling income from freelance computer journalism. My ham radio programs were more popular than the utilities I was trying to sell, and I was very tempted to try to develop a ham radio program commercially. Except that according to Simon and others who supported his position that would have made me an evil profiteer who should be cast out of the hobby altogether.

Today when you visit the Ham Radio Deluxe website the first thing you see is a request to "support Ham Radio Deluxe" by making a donation. And SDR-Radio.com is going to be commercial from the outset. I'm not criticizing Simon for this in the slightest. Developing software, whether for a hobby or anything else, takes time and costs money and there is no reason why people shouldn't try to earn something from it. But I really couldn't pass by this about turn over the principle of whether ham radio software should be free without commenting on it!
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