Amateurs do it for love

I was struck by this observation I read recently on a model train forum:

You get what you pay for. If a piece of software is worth nothing to the person who wrote it, what does that say about it?

I can only assume the author has little experience of using or writing open source software.

People who write free software often do it because they need it themselves, and then offer it to others who might also find it useful. Any inadequacies are soon found by the users and may even be corrected by those same users. (Only this week I submitted a “pull request” fixing a bug I found in a bit of software I use a lot.) Much commercial software is riddled with problems for which there is no cure because the creator is no longer in business, or has no incentive to fix it.

This distrust of amateurs often extends beyond software writing. How often do you hear the word used as a synonym for incompetent, particularly in the context of household DIY. The reality is that many amateurs work to a much higher standard than many professionals. They have to live with the results after all.

More than twenty years ago I installed central heating in my house. I got in a professional to connect the boiler to the gas and commission it, as this was a condition of its guarantee. As he left he said “I came here determined to find a fault with your system so I could refuse to connect it up. But you’ve done the best job I’ve ever seen from an amateur.”

Free software is worth vastly more than you pay for it.

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