Support Software. Good Software.

I’m a huge proponent that when you want to use a piece of software, you buy the darn thing. All my copies of Windows are legit, my audio editing software wasn’t a cheap license, I have a lifetime subscription to XSplit, and a variety of other things. I pay for apps I like on my phone. However, I’m still running a cracked version of WinRar, because I’m not _that_ dedicated. Almost.

This is coming from a guy who basically pirated everything under the sun from the dawn of getting online (heck, even before). I remember being quite young when Windows 3.11 was the shit. It came on something like 15 x floppies. Needless to say, pirated. I was one of the first kids with a CD burner. Game on.

Before I go on, here’s a funny anecdote from years past.

There was this one boss who I can’t properly put into words. The kind of guy who had patches on the elbows of his dollar store wrong sized suit, mustard in his beard from 3 days ago, and hash oil stains all over his pants. A real work of art, and cheap as all hell. A former employee affectionately named him “a redheaded fuckin’ woodpecker”. How ironic that name bestowed upon him actually is will sadly be lost on this story – but those who know the rest may get a chuckle.

The entire outfit was run on cracked software. Windows (including server!), Quickbooks, ACT, and god-only-knows-what-else. It all came crashing down one summer day when this guy fires up his PC (he was insistent turning it off nightly saved a _TON_ on electricity) and within a few minutes that oh so familiar smell of electronics burning was in the air, just seconds before his computer completely shuts down. Being the genius he is, he jams an old power supply from the boneyard into the thing, one with tape claiming “fkn broke”. Sparks fly & now it’s truly fubar. He not only cooked his motherboard, but his HDD, and nearly every card in that thing. With it, all the software.

Begrudgingly he’s off to the computer store where he returns with this custom monstrosity of a case, bargain basement parts, & a pirated copy of Windows. Suddenly he realized he needs copies of his accounting and CMS software. No backups, no install disks, he’s boned as this was all given to him off newgroups (the Torrents of the time). I refused to find him pirated copies because the hell with that. Off to the computer store he goes again, this time returning with $600 worth of software.

This is when he realizes that he needs to buy a copy for all the computers in the office as once databases update, you need to update the software too. As the rest are pirated and unable to be updated, here comes another $1800 software bill. Many laughs at his expense were had.

That story highlights why you should buy applications, not just pull it off the Torrents. First, you get legit software, and support the people making it. Sure, those CEOs are all rolling in mad dough at the major players, but when it comes to smaller independents, and especially custom applications, you gotta pony up the money. Without money coming in, that program sure as heck won’t be updated, you won’t see new features, and suddenly it disappears from existence. So many great applications go this way because of a lack of funds.

Don’t Let Good Software Die.

If the world knew what software never made it off the table because of lack of funds, it’d be floored. As someone who has supported some small software startups, I’ve seen it happen and I can only imagine. In the past 20 years the barrier to entry for the average person to begin writing software has dropped. In the past 10 years it’s almost non-existent. Pre-teens are writing Python programs all from learning a few things from a 1 hour YouTube video. Programming concepts are being offered in schools and kids are learning at breakneck speeds. This is leading to mass innovation. Whomever said “millennials are lazy” hasn’t hung around the right millennials.

When they want to achieve something, simply writing a new program is sometimes cheaper and easier than having to figure it out long hand. Let the computer do the work for you, and let your brain tell it how. That’s the thought train, and one that’s gotten me through a ton of busy work over the years. I’ve written countless applications to scan files, dig into websites and scrape info in seconds that would take me days manually, and and a ton of different basic functions to parse files and convert them to what I need them to be. I’m just a microcosm of what’s out there, and I’m certainly not as savvy as some of these people writing breakthrough stuff.

It’s them who the world needs to pay attention to. Sadly, many of them are over-worked and under-paid. These things they’re doing in their spare time at home are projects of passion, not ones that make them money. More-often-than-not they’ll release it for free simply because they want the world to have something awesome. Plus, who’s going to pay $20 for a company they’ve never heard of? Premium features are usually on a one-time paid upgrade, or at a very moderate subscription price. It’s that $20 you give them upfront, or the $10/year subscription that helps them remember why they want to pursue that project. Without a little stream of income, many of these projects get dropped in lieu of them having to pay the proverbial bills. It sucks. So, if you can, toss them a couple bucks.

Indie Software moves way quicker, but it has it’s drawbacks.

With the proliferation of higher speed Internet connections, cloud computing, and general computing power & storage being insanely cheap compared to what it used to be, technology is moving faster than it ever has in the past. Every few years we have a new breakthrough and people find insanely creative ways to use it. Just think about some of the things that have happened in the past decade. LTE which has allowed us near immediate access to almost anything, anywhere – Home automation, voice recognition, facial recognition, simple image manipulation, and we’re on the cusp of true AI being viable.

Big corporations are usually slow to implement new technologies. While yes, sometimes they are the ones to break them into the mainstream, or even create them – it’s usually small developers that are the ones who are writing the more niche applications – the ones you NEED. These are the people who are tying different applications together to create a more cohesive experience for the end user. Now – you’re likely wondering what that means. I’ll explain.

Let’s Talk About APIs

For any developer, they’ll know exactly what an API is. For those who aren’t, it’s short form for Application Programming Interface. In layman’s terms an API is more or less a way for one application to talk to another application. I’ll make it even easier to understand… Think about someone building an application and they want to talk to a shipping company to check the status of a shipment so they can update it within their customer portal. It would be foolish for UPS or Purolator to allow anyone to access their database directly. Instead, they’d open an API, where people looking to query that data would have to send specific instructions, formatted in a specific way, wrapped in some form of authentication to ensure not just anyone could send requests. This is not only a far more secure way of doing things, but it standardizes what can and can’t be accessed, along with providing clear instructions on how to do it.

Now, APIs aren’t just for servers and little programs. It could be anything from pulling the latest information from your smart home device, getting a captured image from your drone’s camera, checking the battery level on your device, or telling Spotify what song to play next. The possibilities are literally almost endless.

These same APIs are what developers thrive on. It’s what they use to create amazing automations, new and exciting programs, and so much more. It’s what drives innovation. Developers will spend weeks, months, or even years writing applications to change the way we do things and make them easier to use. This isn’t always easy, either.

When You Need Help, You Hope It’s There.

If you haven’t experienced the frustration of trying to get support from a large company – especially one with considerable market share, you are one of the lucky ones in life. Go ahead, call Microsoft’s technical support. They’ll charge you $150 / hour just for them to supporting their product you already bought. Having issues with that illegally downloaded copy of Adobe you got from a friend? They’ll refuse your requests and tell you to buy a licensed copy. Go ahead and call YouTube or Facebook. You can’t. There’s no number. Submit a support ticket. They don’t care.

But you know who does? Small developers. They know every line of their code inside and out. They’re going to be responsive on Twitter. They’ll reply to your emails. Heck, depending on what your issue is, you may even end up on the phone with the person who wrote the program to begin with. They’re passionate about helping their clients and especially about seeing their work succeed. However, it comes at a cost.

People can’t provide ongoing support when there’s no money to be made. That couple bucks you spent to buy the upgraded copy with the additional features helps them to provide that level of support. With those upgraded versions you’ll get the bug fixes, the updates, and you don’t have to worry about what that shady copy off the Internet from SuperTrustworthyRussianHackerTeam.com may be backdooring you with.

I’ll Give You An Example

Recently I’ve been writing some bloody awesome automation to digitize contracts with clients. This isn’t a big deal when you’re talking about 1’s and 2’s every now and again, but when you need to build a couple hundred in a week, that’s a lot of manual data entry, tracking, and mucking with stuff. I wrote a nice little thingy to import client data, batches of info it needs, then it spits out agreements with error checking built in. The last step is that it sends this stuff off to an E-Signature platform so it can be signed off by the client online.

I started off with Adobe Sign. It’s a relative industry standard solution, but costs the big bucks. I managed to find a way around having to pay the exorbitant $1400 USD fee/month for access to their official APIs through some creative coding, cURL, & a few sweet parsing libraries. Then one day it just broke.

Despite having a corporate account with them, their support was lackluster at best. It was all about them trying to upsell me into an enterprise account for tens of thousands a year for something that I’d only use a few dozen times. Completely not worth it. I bounced around to no less than 6 different people before they essentially told me “you need to give us more money, you can’t speak with anyone who actually knows how this stuff works unless you pay us 25x more than the $300 annually you currently spend. Screw those people. There must be a better way.

Enter SecuredSigning. They’re cheap (like, hella cheap), and they (apparently) do what I want for like 1/6th the price of Adobe Sign. Sure, the interface isn’t as elegant, and it’s not QUITE as easy as point/click as it is in Adobe, but it’s pretty slick software, and clearly written more by people with code in mind than a feel good GUI. Better yet, open API access. Yahtzee. I fumble around a bit with their free trial account which is essentially designed to allow you to build your entire application and test it’s functionality, but only gives you 3 contracts / month. I need like 100+. I hit them up as I can’t do much testing with no credits and ask if they have a solution. Within hours, I’ve got one of their developers talking to me through setting up a sandbox account, he’ll load it with credits, then proceeds to send me a boatload of example code and some libraries they wrote for the API that aren’t publicly available. “Here, this should probably help a lot in what you’re doing – it’s some libraries I wrote for this type of thing”. Well damn, thanks bro!

The thing was, I paid these guys for their software. They were pumped. They WANT me to succeed. Just like most companies do. I was blown away by their response based on one of the worst customer service experiences I’d had just go down an hour prior. And that’s why you support these small guys.

Is saving $20 really worth it? Think about it.

Maybe as a teen who’s got no cash, or a broke college student – I can at least understand if not sympathize being in that position. I certainly was for quite a long time. But – for the rest of us, do we really have any excuse? Many of us were broke teens or students in our days as well. Think about how much that $20 would have helped us, and how much it would have meant to us at the time. However as adults shouldn’t we be encouraging the advancement of our society – be that socially, or technologically? Supporting software you use is an integral part of ensuring that software stays around. You almost always get a ton of features, support, and you’re simply doing the right thing.

Do the right thing. It feels good.

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