The brouhaha du jour in amateur radio is the Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) blacklisting scandal, for lack of a better term. For those who haven’t read about this, you can get details over on Reddit here, here, and here. The TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) version of this is that HRD has been blacklisting customers who wrote negative reviews of their software. The blacklisting manifested itself as denied support or disabled software. As if that wasn’t enough, there are nasty tweets, threats of lawsuits, other bad stories about customer support, and even an excuse that the lack of judgement was caused by a prime employee suffering from diabetes and misadjusted prescriptions. I’m not going to rehash the whole drama as you can follow the various links to get the lowdown. (The one ham site that goes by three letters has 60 pages and counting of crowdbashing, and for once, rightfully so).
While the HRD allegations are pretty heinous, this sort of bad behavior in the amateur radio software world isn’t new or unique. I’ve experienced it from various individuals and camps. I encountered a freeware logging software forum with a toxic culture where people openly and privately ridiculed others seeking support, and the software author condoned the culture with his silence. Another freeware software suite has an openly arrogant software creator, with an ego the size of the moon. He claimed his development process was essentially infallible, despite his user interface having flaws that a novice software development student could easily identify. A freeware contest logging development team refused to give me any assistance in the workings of a protocol their software supports. I was told I should go buy a commercial device that supported the protocol rather than attempting to write code to emulate it, because the device was cheap and they didn’t support homebrew endeavors.
For some reason, too many amateur radio software authors think offering free software to the community affords them the privilege of being arrogant to users. How this apparent culture was created within a company profiting financially from sale and support of software, like HRD, is puzzling. However, the HRD story illustrates in spades the problem of “free-as-in-beer” software. HRD was originally offered by its creator as freeware. Several years ago the source code was purchased by a commercial interest and it’s been commercially licensed software ever since. If the project would have been open sourced rather than sold, support and development of the product would not have been dependent on one entity. While freeware authors appear to be benefitting the amateur radio community, in the long term their refusal to open source their creations is detrimental to amateur radio as the community is left with software that gets sold, unsupported, or at the mercy of the whims or incompetencies of a single party.
This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.