Dave: Who will pay?

Over the weekend, Dave wrote an amazing pair of essays around the topic of who will pay for software:

I pay $1 to ride the subway downtown. It costs $300 to fly to NY and back (two hours in the air). A cab ride to the airport — $40. My monthly rent is in the thousands. Medical insurance about $10,000 per year. Everything costs money. So does software. Don’t fool yourself.

There’s an interesting strawman here: are people really not paying for software? I don’t know the statistics. I do think that a lot of what’s going on in the OS world is shifting the pay point to where the value happens. If you’re sitting on a commoditized operating system stack, in this model, the way to make money is to provide increasingly specialized and valuable services that ride the top of the stack.

That may be why I have yet to see anything that positions Windows Server 2003 as a file-and-print server, the most commoditized of any server implementation. Instead, the server sim-shipped with Visual Studio.NET 2003, the new edition of Microsoft’s development environment, and the scenarios tout the OS’s integrated application platform.

But back to Dave’s point: what happens when all the independents are squeezed out of the market because no one buys their stuff? Do we end up with a market with a bunch of journeymen developing shareware and freeware and then a few large software companies taking all the money? But if people aren’t buying the independents’ stuff, how long before they want to get the large companies’ stuff for free too? Scary thought if your skill set is software development…