Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Free software costs someone something. If there's a mechanism to donate, it could help ensure that your favorite free tool will be around for a while.

I've used [removed] products for several years. Rather than glossing over the Donate invitation that comes up when downloading/installing [product], I would strongly recommend and encourage users to consider donating any amount to support further development of the software program(s). I have contributed twice and would encourage others to do so at least once.

Obviously, this wasn't so much a question as it is a statement or a recommendation made by one of my readers.

A recommendation that I agree with.


Yes, I believe that if you can you should "pay" for most free software that you find valuable and use regularly.

I'll explain why.

There's no such thing as free

It takes significant time, energy, and resources to create software.

Even if you aren't paying for it directly, someone, somewhere is.

They're donating that time, energy, and those resources to create something - it's certainly not free to them.

Now, they may opt to do it as a "labor of love," or for other altruistic reasons, and that's fantastic.

But often, they do provide a means for you to show your support for what they're doing with a donation or other form of payment.

"One donation says more than a dozen sales ..."

Unsupported projects die

One of the most frustrating things is to come across a fantastic piece of software that looks like it'll work well to solve a specific problem or use case, only to find that it's been abandoned. That means no more bug fixes, no more updates for new platforms, no more authoritative answers to questions you might have.

Sadly, that happens to a lot of free software. I see it all the time. Sure, sometimes, it's software that - to put it bluntly - deserves to die, but even good software frequently gets abandoned for lack of support.

Developers often end up abandoning projects because they turn out not to be worth their time.

To put it bluntly, providing free software doesn't pay the bills.

It doesn't have to be a lot

It's a classic case in philanthropy that extends to the world of free software: $5, for example, doesn't seem like something worth giving, so you don't.

And thousand other people feel the same way.

So, what could perhaps add up to $5,000 adds up to ... nothing.

It sounds trite, it sounds condescending even, but it's true; every little bit helps. It all adds up.

Can't afford it? No problem

If you can't afford it, fine. Don't worry. Often, your situation is exactly why free software exists.

Maybe someday later, you can "pay it back" in one form or another, but even then you don't need to.

But if you can, consider it.

The ultimate reward system

For projects that make donations to the cause possible, it's the ultimate reward system. You're telling the people that run that project that, yes, you believe in their work, their project, their software, and want them to continue.

In fact, there's a strong argument that says donations say more than payments for commercial software.

  • You only donate if you want to.

  • You only donate once you've decided that the software has provided sufficient value to you.

One donation says more than a dozen sales as far as I'm concerned.

If you find that free software you've been using for a while valuable. Perhaps you'd even gladly pay for what it does for you, even though you don't have to ...

Consider "paying for it" anyway after the fact with a donation if the developer has a mechanism for doing so.

Not only will it show your support, but it might very well help ensure that the software will continue to be updated and supported into the future.

Article C5285 - May 3, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?


May 4, 2012 8:11 AM

Payment could be in kind. Those who have no money money to spare may write a review at a download site, recommend the software they are so happy with, and rate it. Sharing with others helps.

A very good point - I like it.

Tom C.
May 4, 2012 9:05 AM

"... if the developer has a mechanism for doing so." This is a key point. I don't mind writing a check. If Paypal is the only mechanism offered for payment, there won't be a donation. I don't have a Paypal account and don't intend to get one.

May 4, 2012 9:43 AM

As an OAP I can not really afford to pay for anything more than I do now....but as Tom C. says that if I could write a check? .. I would consider it..The article in general though makes a lot of common sense

Wayne in Indy
May 4, 2012 10:47 AM

I agree with pay them something if you can. And if you do not have Paypal, many financial banking services are now offering this. I can "send" money to anyone (in the U.S.) that has an email address, for free. You may find that many credit unions (my recommendation) offer this service for free, where banks and Paypal charge a fee.

May 4, 2012 10:52 AM

I agree with Tom C.
PayPal does not require the use of the security code found on the back of one’s credit card. This means that if someone can hack into PayPal using my name and account number then they can make charges on my account. I had one person make a charge on my credit card through PayPal using only my name. This resulted in my having to get a different card number.
If hackers can hack into the Pentagon (which they did) then it seems reasonable to assume that they can also hack into PayPal. I don’t think it too much for PayPal to require one simple extra step - that of requiring the CCV number for each payment made. Each year I have made on-line purchases in excess of a thousand dollars. I do my best to avoid any on-line merchant which requires payment via PayPal.

May 4, 2012 11:13 AM

$20 or more IS a lot of money for some, but those are not the people that I criticize. $5 really is not that much money for one person, but multiply that by thousands who use the software, it adds up. And for those who pay monthly fees of $50 or more for a cell phone, a one-time donation of $5 IS a drop in the bucket. $5 is ONE visit to Starbucks. I find that most people who "can't afford" it are those who CAN afford it, but choose to spend their money elsewhere. While freely using what they "can't afford."

May 4, 2012 8:09 PM

Comment to Rod & others re: PayPal and CCV number.

To need clarify so there is no misunderstanding...PayPal does offer a student debit card with a CCV number which attaches to a main account [though I'm not a student]. This link allows immediate fund transfers, and the card has no fees except..$1.00 ATM fee, $1.00 for transactions requiring signatures. Compare that to bank fees. I've used this card for two years now, never a problem with the card or PayPal.

Most importantly, I'll be using it for the second time to donate some money to Leo's "coffee fund" on Monday...if not sooner.

May 6, 2012 12:58 AM

I send a few bucks, if and when I can.
I also send a Thank You to the freeware people who's stuff I use and let them know I appreciate the time and effort they put into it. I get a lot of positive responses.

May 7, 2012 7:16 AM

Another way to "pay" for the service is to click links on their website. It only takes a minute to follow the link on a banner advertisement of something you might be interested in. Those clicks are monitored by the parent site and I assume the referring site gets some form of compensation for those referrals (though if it's monetary, I doubt that it's enough to retire on).

I actually don't recommend this. Click on ads that are of interest, of course, but don't click because you think it'll "give back" to the site owner. Most advertising networks take "click fraud" seriously, and the site can lose its advertising account and a significant chunk of not-yet-paid revenue if an advertising network decides that click fraud is happening. ONLY click on ads if they're genuinely of interst.

May 8, 2012 9:34 AM


I thought by my stating "advertisement of something you might be interested in" implied exactly what you stated, but I'm sorry for the confusion of my post. I certainly didn't mean to advertise click-fraud. You response seems specific...have you been a victim of someone trying to "help" you like this #with click-fraud#?

Nope. And it's a sensitive issue for most publishers, as we desperately never want to go there.

Robb Thurston
May 8, 2012 5:08 PM

This is a pious and virtuous idea in so far as we approve of the concept of Bill Gates: Intellectual Property is Worth Cash. Which I do not. Lots of excellent software would exist and sharing would be vastly increased in a Free Internet Of the entire people, managed by the entire people,and for the entire people.
So yes,if we agree to Bill Gates' Internet, it's kind to give. Maybe we can get our property,the Internet,back. Maybe we need to donate to Internet manumission.

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