Why you shouldn't use free software – a commercial developer's view

IK Multimedia is a commercial plug-in developer.
IK Multimedia is a commercial plug-in developer.

Following the publication of our 'Top 10 reasons to use free software' article, acclaimed plug-in developer IK Multimedia has got in touch with MusicRadar to point out what it sees as the disadvantages of going down the freeware road.

While the company accepts that "there are many fine and useful freeware products out there," it also feels that users "should think very carefully before relying on these products".

In the interests of balance, we're happy to publish IK's views here, which were sent to us by the company's UK representative Paul Kaufman. We'd love to know what you think, too, so check out the original article, read the responses then have your say in the Comments section below.

IK Multimedia's points

1. Not all commercial plug-in developers (in fact very few) are large organisations, most are actually just a handful of people. Unlike many of the mainstream software developers.

2. Being a commercial developer does not mean that you necessarily lack the passion to develop great products. In fact quite the opposite can be true,as you also have the pressures of just staying in business to motivate you further. Freeware developers don't necessarily have to worry about paying wages, rent, office energy costs, marketing, advertising, exhibitions etc. They can rely on another job to pay the bills and mortgage (or just mum and dad!).

3. Free software is just that, free. Which means that the developer is under no obligation to support his products, maintain them, upgrade them and owes nothing to his users. He can drop a product if he loses interest without a moment's thought. What's even worse, when you think about it, is that he's using his own users as product testers. A freeware developer isn't paying teams of people to test his software under every possible situation that it could be used under so he is relying on the goodwill of users to find any faults or incompatibilities.

4. Most of the plug-in developers that we know of do not in fact charge for maintenance releases, bug fixes and updates. As far as IK is concerned, we only charge users for major releases when they are receiving what is effectively a new product.Even for brand new products, existing customers practically always receive a significantly reduced price.

5. You have no guarantee of quality, reliability, stability or compatibility with freeware. The developer doesn't have to worry about losing customers as they are not paying him in the first place. This means that there is no pressure to do full product testing or ensure a product works with all operating systems and versions of DAWs. If there is a problem, then tough, you have to wait for the developer to be bothered to get around to fixing it, you have no commercial leverage.

It is a constant battle for commercial developers to stay ahead of the latest changes to operating systems, DAWS or hardware many of which are out of our control. Product maintenance is a serious issue that can take up almost as much time as developing new products.

6. Commercial plug-in developers, such as IK, are under huge pressure from several fronts: outright piracy (ie. theft) of our products from cracks, torrent sites or casual swapping between friends; the increasing trend of hardware and DAW manufacturers to bundle many plug-in products in the box with their own packages, thus reducing the motivation to look further afield; and magazines who give away free plug-ins on their cover discs even at the expense of their own advertiser revenues.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.