If it were up to me, I would give away all my work for free. As a matter of fact, many people consider my early work (the old and obsolete releases of iText up until version 2.1.7) as free as in free beer.
I'm living proof that this approach doesn't work. One thing very few people realize, is that a successful product can be destroyed not only in spite of but also because of its success. That nearly happened to iText in 2008, the year my son was diagnozed with cancer, also the year the Belgian Social Security retrospectively taxed me (going back 5 years in history!) because they didn't believe I didn't make any money with iText.
Yesterday, I met very interesting people at the reception of the OSTT, but you must forgive me if I single out a conversation that gave me a sleepless night (causing me to write a blog post at 4 AM in the morning). Two different people came to me, saying So you're the iText guy! We've had long discussions about you! We use the free version of your software, and we really disliked you when you switched to a more restrictive license. One person actually considered this as an act of treason.
I replied: You're calling me a traitor? What are you doing at an Open Source conference, you parasite?
When you read this sentence in a blog post, you may get the impression that this was an angry, venomous remark. That impression would be wrong. My reply was the start of an interesting conversation. The problem companies had (and maybe still have) with the license change, is that they don't know the history, and they know even less about the future. They don't know that I'm not charging for iText to make an awful lot of money; I just want to create a sustainable business (which is also in their interest). They don't know that I've done things in the past (and that I'm still doing things) that aren't profitable at all. For instance: I wrote two books about iText, and you must believe me when I say: You don't make any money writing a book!
Of course, the iText books are great marketing, and they allowed me to create a healthy business and hire great developers. But in order to pay employees, one needs to generate revenue, hence the business model with the dual licensing. Incidentally, Mark Stephens has just written an excellent blog post comparing open source and commercial software.
People who accuse me of betrayal, express the fear that it was all a scheme. They suspect that I have provided iText for free in the past with the intention to change the license overnight in an attempt to rip them off. I unveiled some of the considerations that were made during the long internal discussions that preceded the license change, and I also talked about the plans for the future. How do we balance the benefits for the different stakeholders: the users, the customers, our employees, and ourselves as business owners? At the end of the conversation, I received a business card: We should talk. I'm sure we can do business together.
Conversations like this, where people can say what they think, even if they risk hurting people's feelings, is why the Open Source Think Tank is a success. Bringing your concerns out in the open, helps you clarifying any issues that may exist. In many cases, this is the first step towards a solution. But it's intense, and conversations like this keep me awake at night. I guess that's normal. It means I care. I really do.