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NDoc no more and Open Source

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I was just over at Scott Hanselman’s Blog and browsing around some recent posts when I ran into this note about the demise of NDoc. NDoc of course is free tool to document .NET assemblies. Go ahead and take a look at the note…


This is pretty disturbing to hear. NDoc is probably one of the more widely used free tools on the .NET platform and apparently according to one of the developer leads there was grand total of 11 donations since the last version was released which was quite a while ago. Ouch…


I’m really sad to hear NDoc’s demise even though NDoc is one of the biggest competitors to Help Builder precisely because it’s a free product. To be honest, for pure .NET doc generation NDoc is a better tool than Help Builder (which also generates documentation from .NET assemblies and applications) primarily because NDoc is focused specifically on class documentation generation while Help Builder is a more generic tool that has many other features and allows modification and adding to the generated content.


But aside from that I know a lot of developers who use NDoc on a regular basis – less so now because .NET 2.0 support is not there and now apparently will never come. I’ve never used NDoc for anything more than testing, so I don’t feel guilty here, but I’ve worked on projects where NDoc was used and I can tell you that it’s an integral part of the development process when it is used.


All of this raises an important point I think. First and maybe foremost is that if you use ‘free’ products – especially if you rely on them – you should really support those products even with a small donation if the developers are asking for it. I know it seems easy enough to just ‘forget’ – after all it’s FREE, right?


I am guilty of this as much as the next guy. I use a few open source products where I could have donated and haven’t. I guess I too have a donation threshold folder of criteria that determines what gets my donation. <s>


But there’s the rub – when does something become worthwhile and how do you assess the value of a tool without a ‘Suggested Donation’ price? Ultimately when you’re given a choice you grossly underestimate the value of what the tool is actually worth and pay a fraction of what you would pay for a comparative product.


To make donations makes sense as it gives the developers at least a little incentive to move on the project and dedicate more time to it. As stated in the note if even a small number of NDoc’s user base would have put up a small donation the tool would have probably stayed alive.


But this is also something that bugs me about the whole open source ‘movement’. The point here is that ‘free’ which is the main draw that brings people to the products in the first place, rarely means free. Somebody has to work for the functionality and invest at the very least time into the process, so free is certainly not free for everybody. But labeling a product as open source to many has the immediate connotation of free and the release of any requirement for compensation. Compensation can come in many ways – money, but also supporting the product and contributing possibly, although that’s probably more difficult to manage for the core development team than anything else. But even so the smallest amount of users actually contribute in anyway.


And in the end the products are not really free, if they are begging for donations to keep them alive. This whole open source business of begging for people to support it is not automatically a better approach. As a customer I rather work with a product I paid for with a license because it's something you paid for and in most cases have at least some right to expect support for. There’s also a price that you either accept as reasonable or refuse by passing on buying. On a purchased product there’s also a chain of responsibility there (although with some vendors that’s not a certainty) that usually isn’t there in open source.


In the end that’s just another – ineffective – payment mechanism. So overall I can’t really feel so sorry for the developers of NDoc. If you create a free product don’t expect to get paid no matter how much value it provides. If you think the tool has enough value, well, then make it a product. See if it can actually make it in an open market with people paying what you think the value of it is. Of course that’s difficult going from free to for pay, but that’s one of the problems of open source…


The problem I have here is that we’re working of the honor system and the honor system in many cases just doesn’t work well. I don’t think that people necessarily are evil and wouldn’t pay, but the honor system isn’t exactly providing proper guidance. What’s it worth to you? $5 was thrown around as the value for NDoc. $5??? Are you kidding me – that’s what 2 minutes of billable time? Think of the value provided on your project. $20, $30? $150? I bet if you look at it in terms of value added to the project(s) that use NDoc it’s almost certain on the top end of that range.


The Voices of Reason


Steve from Pleasant Hill
August 06, 2006

# re: NDoc no more and Open Source

You raise a great topic. Developers more than anyone should appreciate what goes into a great piece of software. When someone is young and single perhaps it's a joy to spend all their free time developing a free tool. At some point their life may change or something makes them re-evaluate what they do for free. As a father I have had to weigh things like this many times.

The NDoc developer should charge for his product if the donation method is not working for him. There should be no guilt. How many people have saved time and money because of his efforts? If he becomes a rich fat-cat down the road and can afford to produce some other free software, wonderful. It's obvious he already has altruistic traits.

It would seem a better solution than NDoc fading away....

August 07, 2006

# re: NDoc no more and Open Source

From what I can tell the honor system certainly does not work in many cases when it comes to software. Open-source or not. I know of plenty people and companies I have worked for where buying more software licenses is unheard and if it is open-source that is interpreted as free. Buy one and install it everywhere. I try to donate to any open-source software that I use on a any sort of ongoing basis. I have no clue how the developers of these open-source products manage to keep these products alive.

Doug Dodge
August 07, 2006

# re: NDoc no more and Open Source

TANSSAAFL -There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

I always cost someone something. I'd bet this preduct should be acquired by someone like yourself and made into a commercial product - resulting in some royalties to the original developer and the individual/company who is extending it. Looks like an opportunity to me.

August 07, 2006

# re: NDoc no more and Open Source

How come there's no official news about this on nDoc's home page http://sourceforge.net/projects/ndoc/?

From the messages I read so far about this, it seems the main discussion is about the lack of financial contribution. I thought open source developers start projects because it's a labor of love and not to expect any financial returns. Personally if I start such a project and discontinue work on it, my first excuses would be lack of time or loss of interest.. but hardly because of lack of donations.

My opinion is make it the product a commercial one. For some weird reason, people would not donate $5 for a free product but they would pay
$99 for it if that what it costs to use it.

nDoc is well known and I suggest the developer monitize on its popularity. Start charging for it for the next version. I don't find anything wrong with this approach.


October 03, 2006

# re: NDoc no more and Open Source

I've read practically a hundred posts on the issue and I think yours is the best :). Esp. the point about "free to for pay"!

Even two months later, I'm still fairly in shock about the thing; I hardly ever used it at all, but I sent a pseudo-contribution back in 2004


And IIRC got a nice email from Kevin explaining how the change was made. It was more then I would ever have hoped for from a project like that.

# DotNetSlackers: NDoc no more and Open Source

May 31, 2009

# Of open source, freeware and NDoc

Of open source, freeware and NDoc

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