The Hypocrisy of "Free": Unpacking the Double Standards in Software Monetization

The illusion of "free" software by Google et al comes at the cost of personal data and spam, yet independent developers are criticized for monetizing their work. Let's support honest, independent development.

The Hypocrisy of "Free": Unpacking the Double Standards in Software Monetization
Photo by Dan Burton / Unsplash

Recently, a comment caught my eye:

A formerly free product that now continually spams users with popups begging for subscriptions has no business being included. Shame on you.

So, if that was YOU, congratulations... you win 👐.

This vitriolic comment was in reference to NiM being added back to the official Node.js documentation and the change in NiM's license model. The sheer hypocrisy embedded in this statement is staggering, and it's time to unpack why.

The Myth of "Free"

"Free" has become a convenient cover word for for-profit corporations—behemoths, in fact—that have built their empires on the illusion of free products. Companies like Google and Microsoft offer "free" software, but the reality is far from free. These products come at the cost of your personal data, incessant ads, and a constant push towards their paid services. Google Ads, a cornerstone of Google’s revenue model, exemplifies this perfectly. Users are bombarded with ads tailored to their data, mined meticulously by these companies. Yet, this model is rarely questioned because it’s been normalized. And it just boggles my mind how an assumed intelligent class of people (developers) even fall prey to not recognizing this fact or worse selectively not caring. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander but as so many examples show, it is not.

The Independent Developer's Dilemma

Now, let's juxtapose this with the experience of an independent developer—someone who has poured countless hours into a project, receiving practically zero monetary contributions. NiM, my brainchild, has been open-source and free for years. However, sustainability is key, and I decided to introduce a subscription model for one of my products. Despite this, NiM remains open source.

The backlash? Vitriolic comments decrying the move as if I’ve committed a cardinal sin. It’s disheartening to see such double standards. Large corporations that spam users and profit from their data are given a free pass, while an individual developer trying to make a modest living is castigated.

Amazon, the BILLION (or is it spelled with a TR now?!) dollar cash cow that it is, can relentlessly slang its ads at the beginning of each and every movie its PAYING users watch. Yet, Mr. prize winner from earlier would likely not bat an eye at this behavior, although if any shame should be felt or had, it should be because of this type of thing.

Amazon Prime Ads (5 of them no less)

The Real Cost of "Free" Alternatives

has no business being included

Let's address the part of the comment stating, "has no business being included." This is particularly troublesome given the alternatives listed: Visual Studio, JetBrains WebStorm, Gitpod—all of which are paid products or heavily integrated with paid services from for-profit companies. Even VSCode, hailed as a free solution, is tightly woven into Microsoft's ecosystem, which thrives on data collection and monetization strategies.

This is not a revelation; in fact, I personally opened an issue about removing links to 3rd-party tools with privacy issues on the's GitHub repo years ago.

So, what’s truly free? Visual Studio and VSCode are not free in the truest sense. They come with strings attached—data mining, spam campaigns, and subtle nudges towards premium versions or services. These companies have the resources to mask these tactics, making their "free" offerings seem benign.

The Value of Transparency and Open Source

In contrast, NiM’s shift to a subscription model is transparent. There's no hidden agenda, no exploitation of user data, and certainly no bombardment with ads. The decision to charge was driven by the need for sustainability, ensuring that I can continue improving and maintaining the tool.

It's high time we recognize the true cost of "free" and stop holding independent developers to an impossibly high standard while allowing large corporations to operate under a facade of generosity. NiM deserves its place in the Node.js documentation, not despite its subscription model, but because it represents a more honest and transparent approach to software development.


Next time you encounter a product that asks for a subscription, especially from an independent developer, consider the context. The real question isn’t why they are charging, but why you expect it to be free in the first place. Let’s support sustainable development practices and recognize the value of transparency over the illusion of "free".

By rethinking our expectations and understanding the realities of software development, we can create a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem for all.

Saving the Best for Last: THANK YOU💖

To the many others who have supported the project by subscribing and contributing in other ways, I want to extend my deepest gratitude. Your support is not just financial; it is a vote of confidence in the work I do and a testament to the value you find in NiM. Your contributions enable me to continue improving and maintaining the tool, ensuring that it remains a valuable resource for the developer community.

Thank you for believing in the importance of transparency, sustainability, and independent development. Your support truly means a great deal to me and keeps the spirit of open source and innovation alive. Together, we can build a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem for all.