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Free software projects and donations

November 4, 2009

The issue of donations to FLOSS projects was discussed with Paul Davis (a developer for the Ardour audio editor project) in an episode of FLOSS weekly and he said that there are a few categories of app with regard to need for donations and source of resources:

  • very important apps that are funded by various companies because it is in their best interest, or because it is their project. eg Linux kernel, apache web server, firefox, java, openoffice … Most server apps probably fall into this category.
  • small apps that can be written quickly and don’t require much development. eg sound juicer
  • big desktop apps that require a lot of work, but don’t have an obvious funder. eg Ardour, inkscape …

So the big desktop apps are the ones that need donations the most. It got me thinking about what would be the best ways of channelling money from users to developers. Some options include:

Donate button in Software Center

The upcoming Ubuntu Software Center application would be a great place for this. At the bottom of the software description, along with the Install and Website buttons there could be an optional Donate button, along with some text saying why donations are important to that project. The Donate button would take people to the donate page of the project website.

It should only require a little bit of extra metadata. I would think it should be an optional thing, off by default so as to channel donations to those projects that really need some money – eg Ardour.

If the software center later has a way of taking money (for selling non-free software) this mechanism could be used to send money to the project without having to set up a new account. Though this should take into account that some upsteams that need serious cash would prefer regular subscription style donations rather than less predictable one off donations.

Note that this is something to do aswell as having a standard place within the app for a donate link.

Donate button in the About box

One standard place for a Donate item would be in the About box (that lives in the Help menu). Apps could put a paragraph in there about why they need donations and a link to their donate web page.

Donate text as a “tip” for the application

Many applications have tips for new users on start up (the gimp, digikam …) One of these tips could be to say that this application requires donations to support it’s developers/to keep the website going/because beer isn’t generally free. There would then be a link to the donate page on the project website.

This could complement the Software Center option. The Software Center option would be good for those who know they want the application and realise the value of the app to them. However those who are just trying the app and may or may not like it are unlikely to donate at that point. But if they see a tip at start up some time down the road, when they are regularly using the app and know that it is valuable to them, they may then be more likely to donate.

As one of a number of tips, most of which are useful to you, it should hopefully be seen by a large number of users and not be seen as too in your face nagware. And as tips can be turned off, so can the reminder, so it won’t get too annoying.

I have written some of this up on Ubuntu Brainstorm.

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