Articles / Ransom Software for Fun and…

Ransom Software for Fun and Profit

Users have three main goals in mind when considering software: support, freedom, and quality. Users may not directly recognize these attributes, but they are relevant to every software decision. In this paper, I'll cover these three objectives and explain why releasing software under a ransom system may be a good alternative for some software projects.

Goals of Software


The first concern of users is support. Support is typically needed not only because of problems with the software itself, but also because of problems with user understanding. In today's market, the illusion of support is more typical than real satisfactory support. Users will often make a purchase decision based on this illusion because it provides comfort similar to an insurance policy. They believe support will be there if they should ever need it.


Users want the freedom to use software to suit their needs. The recent upsurge of Open Source software has demonstrated this need. Users usually refer to "buying" software when, in fact, they are leasing software. Many software companies impose many restrictions on the use and distribution of the provided software. Although personal users typically violate these agreements without penalty, companies are forced to play by the rules. It's important to note that better freedom will also provide better support. Anyone with access to the source can support and fix the software. Without such access, it would be difficult at best to provide any support to existing customers.


Last, but not least, we want to consider quality. What point would there be in support and freedom if the software didn't perform the way we wanted? There are a few different perspectives on quality. The developer has one point of view, the business another, and the end user still another. The users' is the most relevant standpoint, simply because of their numbers. Bad quality can usually be corrected with good feedback from the end user.

Enter the Ransom System

Up to now, we've covered some of the "mile high" views of software development. Next, we'll discuss the real purpose of this paper: The ransom system.


The Ransom license was originally created by Theoretic Solutions, a public think tank which works for the betterment of technology, business, and politics. In order to properly understand the ransom system, it's helpful (at least for this author) to think of all software as information, rather than as tangible products. Once you consider software in this light, the meaning of product purchases becomes different. Here are some important points to consider about the sale of information:

  1. The sale of information does not include charges for raw materials, and therefore is difficult to quantify. You can't justify pricing with the costs of raw materials such as timber, oil, or silicon. It relies directly on how much the buyer is willing to buy for and how much the seller is willing to sell for.
  2. Information is easily transferable. The more parties that have access to information, the more likely it is to spread and lose value. It is therefore of greater interest to sell at a higher price to fewer parties rather than at a low price over a long term.
  3. Any attempts on restriction of distribution and use will fail in the end due to unrealistic costs of enforcement.

The ransom system aims to alleviate some of the problems with current software release systems. Typically, software is either sold on a per customer basis, with highly restricted use and distribution terms, or given away freely to the public. The first treats the customer unfairly and the second treats the developer unfairly (in most situations). The ransom system allows developers to release Open Source software, but get compensated for it at the same time.

Ransom Properties

Ransom Releases have the following properties:

A total ransom amount to compensate for all development.
Once this amount has been paid to the developer, the software is released to the public under an OSI/FSF compliant license.
Smaller payment amounts.
These may be accepted in exchange for limited use copies of the software. These payment amounts accumulate and go towards the payment of the total ransom amount.
A dissolve date.
This guarantees the release of the software by a specific date, regardless of payment.


  • Because the ransom typically only covers development, services can be sold to support the project. This cuts initial costs and keeps the users paying for only what they need.
  • If the developer drops the project, it can be picked up by other interested parties.
  • Because the developer is compensated, he/she is more inclined to offer support and documentation for the project.
  • The final release to the public allows anyone to offer support.


  • Users are not charged for the number of copies, users, processors, or data transfers. This creates a fair market in which customers are not charged for the size of their company or any other irrelevant factor. (The size of a company imposes no additional costs to the developer.)
  • The final license is Open Source, offering much more freedom than typical commercial software.


  • Users are more likely to provide feedback on Open software that they've paid for.
  • Developers are more inclined to provide quality and listen to feedback when they are being compensated for time spent on a project.
  • If the developer offers discounted or free access to code contributors, companies may be able to recoup any additional development costs made to the software.

The Technology Ransom Network

The Technology Ransom Network has been set up at to assist developers with the use of a ransom model.

  • The ransom is handled by Tekrat Labs, not the developer, to help ensure fairness.
  • Accounts are free to set up; the only costs are credit card transaction fees taken out of payments
  • PayPal is used, so it's easy and free to set up.
  • Account creation, payment, and access to the project are handled; developers just upload releases as they become available.

The Technology Ransom Network makes it easy to release quality software. Developers who want to try a new releases system can easily take it for a test drive by creating a new account and placing a single version up for ransom. If they like how the system works, they can ransom another version. If not, they simply continue to release the software as usual.


The ransom system shares many common roots with today's Open Source development, but tries to enhance it. Ransom software creates a fair and stable environment for developers to work. It also keeps the users in mind by not restricting their use or requiring unfair compensation. It's hoped that this can directly or indirectly bring about positive action in the software development community.

Recent comments

29 Aug 2005 09:15 Avatar rugburn451

new place for bounties
dont know if anyone still cares, but lets try to centralize all the software bounties. One place to post 'em , one place to collect 'em, (one place to form commitee, and in the darkness bind them)
have a look at


11 Feb 2003 16:37 Avatar ravenmorris

Re: The methods of payment
Oops, I forgot to put a link to the screenshot in the last post, heh.

11 Feb 2003 16:22 Avatar ravenmorris

Re: The methods of payment

> Ads are ok with some software, but often
> they really don't work. Example is
> Opera. Now, I like to see a lot of the
> page on my screen. I have even the
> bookmarks row in Mozilla disabled (to
> Mozdev: could you please move home
> button back to the same row with
> address). Now, I wanted to see home much
> screen estate I can get with Opera.
> Impossible. The ads are there making it
> impossible.
> And I sure ain't using a webbrowser that
> takes half of my screen, and not paying
> for one I haven't tested a lot (to see
> if it really works with what I need).

I am very conscious of my screen estate as well. I usually like to view one window at a time, maximized. That way I can view much more of the document, with no distractions. ICE Window Manager allows me to easily use keybindings to flip around instantly to my various desktops, load up apps and maximize/restore ... and use full-screen (as of the new versions of ICE).

That said, I always have a copy of Opera (Ctrl+Alt+O) open on desktop 2 (Ctrl+Alt+2) set to full-screen mode (Alt+Enter). I do not find the advertisement at all intrusive. Sure if it wasn't there I would only have the status line in the top, and no button bar (I don't actually use the buttons, only mouse gestures or keyboard commands).

Anyhow, take a look at my screenshot, I think my screen real estate is quite fine. This is the computer I use at work: Debian, PIII, 512MB, 1024x768, my home machine is running: Slackware, Thunderbird 1.1Ghz, 160MB, 1280x1024 -- where the add banner is even less obtrusive.

I personally find the user interface of Opera vastly superior to what else is available in the browser market, and it is continually the innovator of things I just can't live without: MDI/tabbed interface, mouse gestures, menu of common options for enabling plugins, graphics, css, java, user agent, etc., nicknames and a plethora of others.

As far as closed-source projects go, I couldn't be more impressed with Opera. They always have listened to my complaints and suggestions, and have implimented many of the features I have requested. Not to mention they oppose monopolistic companies like Microsoft.


23 Jan 2003 09:21 Avatar jasoncook

Re: Maybe get the money upfront?

%The more the
> commericial money, the longer the time
> between stable release and X during
> which the commercial interests have a
> strategic advantage over non-consortium
> competitors.

I'm not sure I'm willing to trust this type of strategic avantage. Those with money decide they want to add proprietary code and features that are optimized against interoperability and are not platform independent. The ransom license is changed to allow it because the developers don't want to lose funding. What happens then? The rest of us who live by the GPL are left with nothing.

(I'm not saying that all developers would sell out, but surely some would.)

16 Dec 2002 14:45 Avatar mystran

Re: The methods of payment

> Yes I agree with you that convenience is
> important.
> I have had success in finding new
> software using the free trial download
> model (30 day trial, etc., or unlimited
> trial with ads, etc.).

Shareware is good, the problem is that it's often hard to find a way to pay for a program if you don't own credit card and live outside USA.

Another thing is that too many programs only allow "limited trial" which is useless, if the features you need happen to be only in the purchasted version.

Say, for example one music tracker offers a wave output plugin if you register it. But without the plugin I am unable to find out if it produces sound that sounds good when mixed with something else.

Winzip is one of the programs that have good shareware solution (though I don't use Winzip myself as I'm Linux user). It prompts you with a notification, which is a bit annoying but that's it's purpose. Worth noticing here is that IF it stopped working, it would suck (maybe you don't have money just now or some other problem that delays you from obtaining the registered version), it offers all features ("this feature is only in the registered version" gets an application uninstalled or more likely cracked at once), you don't have to reinstall registered version, and there is no fscking delay in the splash screen (although you have to click a button).

I also like the model where you can test the full version for free, but if you are using it commercially you have to buy a license for it. There's really no point in buying Oracle to test if it works for your database needs, and it seems Oracle has realized that.

Another nice thing with Oracle style distribution is the following: now, I used to work for a company that has companywide license for Oracle. The problem is when you need to install a client (or a dev server) somewhere, you have too options, either get the CD from someplace (Oracle netsite, at least that time), or call the local service desk to get them install it and wait n days.

Latter is not a solution if your laptop with your oracle install happens to be home, it's 20:00 and the damn database is breaking more every second.

Ads are ok with some software, but often they really don't work. Example is Opera. Now, I like to see a lot of the page on my screen. I have even the bookmarks row in Mozilla disabled (to Mozdev: could you please move home button back to the same row with address). Now, I wanted to see home much screen estate I can get with Opera. Impossible. The ads are there making it impossible.

And I sure ain't using a webbrowser that takes half of my screen, and not paying for one I haven't tested a lot (to see if it really works with what I need).


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