Nero's Dilemma: Why Pay For Closed-Source Software On Linux? - InformationWeek
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6/9/2008
12:04 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Nero's Dilemma: Why Pay For Closed-Source Software On Linux?

Here's a problem for you. Once you have made the jump to Linux and discovered that a great many commercial programs have free / open source equivalents, why would you want to pay for a given program (like, say, a CD burning suite) when you can get the same thing or even more from your distro's software repository? That was the question I put to the folks at Nero, makers of the for-pay Nero CD/DVD authoring suite for both

Here's a problem for you. Once you have made the jump to Linux and discovered that a great many commercial programs have free / open source equivalents, why would you want to pay for a given program (like, say, a CD burning suite) when you can get the same thing or even more from your distro's software repository? That was the question I put to the folks at Nero, makers of the for-pay Nero CD/DVD authoring suite for both Windows and Linux.

A couple of days ago, I spoke with Craig Campbell, Technical Director of Nero, about the most recent version of Nero for Linux. I had used Nero versions 6 and 7 for a long time -- that is, up until I found freeware (ImgBurn) and open source (InfraRecorder) substitutes for it that did everything I needed. It wasn't that I didn't like Nero, just that I'd found something else that did the same job without a pricetag.  Also, as a prelude to our conversation, the company sent me the latest version of Nero for Linux; I tried it out on Fedora 9, and it works about the same as its Windows counterpart. But, again, I asked: aren't Linux users just going to use something "native"? Why spend money?

Craig admitted, quite candidly, that had always been a problem for them since Nero Linux came out in 2005. "The average Linux user is a power user, and they're used to getting things for free," he said. "At the same time, there are features out there that they want which we have -- such as support for MPEG-4 /AAC audio, or support for layer jumps [when burning to multi-layer media]. Also, not everyone wants to provide their own support if something goes wrong, or add support for new drives or features coming out, so they'd really rather have someone else do that development." (My prior experience with Nero bore out that they publish updates to their applications quite punctually.)

Another thing that Craig cited, which was not something I had given a great deal of thought to, was the role of PC OEMs.  Many of them are giving Linux more of a role in their products, especially in the subnotebook category.  "As they jump on board," Craig said, "that's that much more money coming in for [Nero] -- if they come out with a line of Linux products, and they want Nero in their PCs, they don't want open source [for that type of program]."

He cited the codec issue (always a thorn in the side of open source multimedia users) as one major reason: if you're a company using a patent-encumbered codec, you want to make sure everyone's properly paid up. This led into a fascinating revelation: Nero is currently in talks with a number of PC makers -- no names could be named, sadly -- who want to create low-end Linux-based systems that are essentially multimedia boxes. Such things require software that has the patent tithes paid up, of course, since they're being distributed through commercial channels.

No, they don't see a solid business model in making a dual-licensed version of the product -- e.g., an open source version with some features (sans, say, the patent-encumbered stuff) and a commercial version with everything. "The people already on Linux who use the free / open source stuff generally never migrate to the paid product," Craig claimed. "It's not something we see that can grow into a paid market." They're still thinking about it, but so far nothing they've come up with has seemed a profitable possibility.

All of this points towards something about Linux that has been said before, but is only now becoming concrete. As Linux gets more popular, it passes into the hands of people who are not automatically concerned with open source or information freedom. They are not as uncomfortable with the idea of running proprietary software on Linux -- in fact, if anything, they're more comfortable with that, because that's most of what they already know about; if they've been running open source on other platforms, they've generally conflated that with shareware.

But at the same time, it also means that they're getting exposed to open source products that do most everything they would nominally pay for. The assumption that they have to pay for something to do what's needed starts to drop away. It sounds to me like proprietary software on Linux, outside of the special cases Craig outlined above, is going to be an uphill climb no matter who's at the console. But those special cases may in themselves turn out to be some of the biggest and best ways to put Linux into the hands of millions.

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