Source License for Commercial apps?

Lately I've been wishing I had a source license for some of the closed-source Cocoa applications I use on a daily basis. I'd like to be able to add personal features without having to wait for the vendor to add them. I can hear some people saying already, "AppleScript", or "Services menu", or "contextual menu plugin". No, no, no. I want fully integrated features, not disjointed scripts in languages I'm not proficient with. Given the opportunity, I can write features seamlessly into the application directly using Objective-C, and to me, that's a lot more productive and gives better results.

Most of the things I'd like these apps to do are things that are too specific to be useful to a broad audience, and are unlikely to be implemented otherwise. But then again, if they are useful features, and the vendor would like to merge my private improvements into their app, they could license that code back from me, saving them from having to do the implementation from scratch themselves. But that's not a serious part of my motivation... I just want to be able to make these applications do all the things I want them to do.

I'm not looking for a way to make a custom version of an app and redistribute it. I'd certainly want the right to be able to say what I've done with my copy, but not necessarily be allowed to redistribute my changes publicly. I guess that all depends on what the vendor is comfortable with allowing.

So why not use an open source application to begin with? Well, I do use open source applications, but for the apps I'm wishing source licenses for, I would not seriously consider abandoning them for weaker (or non-existent) open source alternatives. Not to mention I do like to support developers! I don't hesitate to register software when I plan to use it. Sometimes I even register software before I try it... for example, I registered CodeTek's VirtualDesktop product before I even downloaded it. Unfortunately, I found the application didn't meet my needs at the time, but since then, the product has improved immensely, and I believe that my early support and the support of others was what funded those improvements.

I do not think that many closed source vendors are necessarily against letting users license their source. I don't think trade secrets are the reason the apps are only shipped as binaries. I think developers want a fair reimbursement for their work, so they can achieve their goals, personal and business.

I do think that a source license is worth a lot more than a binary license. How much more? Not sure. But 2-10 times more seems realistic and reasonable to me, depending on how much the application cost to begin with.

Realistically, the market for source licenses is small indeed, and the risks very high, so I imagine developers get a little squeamish thinking this. It would certainly suck if someone were to publish someone else's proprietary source, and it would be hard to find out who did it. Personally, I would be happy to sign an NDA and whatever other legal documents (within reason, and nothing that would harm my own livelihood) to make a vendor comfortable letting me have access to source code.

So, what apps do I want source licenses for?


Your thoughts about this?

Written on March 27, 2003