Thursday, May 6, 2010

Where's The Warez?

It's taken me a while to notice, but I've become aware of what was apparently a slow fundamental shift in my overall attitude towards the world of software. Over the years I have certainly presented a clear and noticeable burgeoning as a professional developer. Skill sets have improved, design techniques have been honed, and important lessons have been learned. But along the way, quite unintentionally and unnoticed, a side-effect of all of this has dragged along with it.

In my younger days I was not at all averse to "pirating" software. In the atmosphere of college it was just par for the course. Perhaps my mindset on the entire notion of digitally copying things is warped, after all I was there when a revolution was taking shape. (You should have seen what Shawn did to that network, man. It was epic.) So it wouldn't be entirely incorrect to say that there was a time when I flat out refused to pay for software.

It wasn't just a matter of convenience, either. Sure, the school had all the software you could imagine and it was easy to copy. So I had local copies of everything from Photoshop to Matlab. Most of the time I wouldn't even use it, I just wanted to add it to my collection. But there was more to it than that. This bred in me the idea that, with a little searching and a little work, I could get any software for which I had an immediate need for free.

But what happened to that? With the advent of high speed internet access and p2p software (not the least of which is the vast collection of torrents on the internet), one can argue that it's easier than ever. So why don't I pirate software anymore? Why is it that not only does it simply not occur to me, but even now as I think about it I find no desire to do it?

There was a time when, for example, if I wanted to use ReSharper in my development then I would, without a second thought, spend upwards of days searching for a "crack" or a "keygen" to allow myself the use of it. And now, finding that I miss the use of it from a corporate license at my previous job, I simply consider the weight of that against the cost of a personal license and budget accordingly. If I want it, it costs $x.xx, and that's it.

I don't even know when this change took place. Looking back at the commercial software I've used, I've properly bought everything I currently have. My only Windows machine is properly licensed, I've bought the past two OS X upgrades (10.5 and 10.6) and iLife software. I even buy apps on my iPhone from time to time.

So what changed? Is it my switch to Apple products and the mentality that traditionally espouses that? Is it my increased skill level with open source and homegrown solutions over the years? Or can all this simply be explained as a consequence of growing up and transitioning from a code monkey to an experienced developer?

When I think about this, I can't help but remember something someone once mentioned to me in passing back in college. I was working with the Systems Group at the College of Computer Science at Northeastern University, under the guidance of their Directory of Technology. We had a persistent collaborative environment (known as a chatroom to the unwashed masses) on a MOO and we were once discussing a task that needed to be done. (The actual task escapes me now.) A commercial piece of software offered a solution, but the question was whether we had the budget for it. Being young and uninitiated, I typed in something along the lines of: "that all depends on what you mean by 'own' :)" or something to that effect. After a few moments of silence, I received a whisper (or private message, if you will) from one of the team members (I think it was David, may have been Jay) saying "pirating software is generally frowned upon in the IT community."

Who would have thought that now, ten years later, those words would stir up in me a sense of remorse for my younger days? Looking back at what I could have learned from the professionals with whom I worked at the very beginning of my career, I can only wonder where I'd be today. Not that I'm complaining about my current lot in life by any means, I like where my career is going right now. But man... I was young and stupid.

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