fman's business strategy

The closed alpha of fman is slowly coming along. The current prototype runs on OS X and looks as in the screenshot on the home page. It supports basic keyboard commands (F4 for editing files, F5 for copying, F6 for moving, F7 for creating a directory, F8/DEL for deleting, F9 for opening a terminal). Porting it to Windows started this week. It already runs there, but isn't yet as visually appealing as on OS X. (If you want to sign up for the closed alpha, that's still possible on the home page.)

Until the closed alpha is ready, I thought I'd share fman's business strategy with you, and how I arrived at it.

First things first, fman is a commercial project. Its goal is to create the most awesome file manager in existence. The resources required to do this are paid for by people who buy fman. This ensures that you get software of the highest quality and lets me devote years of my life to developing it.

Can fman be open source while being a commercial project? There are a few ways it could be monetized:

  1. Tell users that they need to pay for fman, even though it is open source.
  2. Offer a plugin store similar to Apple's and Google's app stores. Allow plugin developers to publish paid apps through it. Take a cut of payments. Also develop and publish own paid apps.
  3. Offer a subscription service that augments the deskop app. For instance, a functionality that lets users log in inside fman with their email address to have their settings synced across devices.

Regarding 1., I spoke with the author of a very popular desktop app who open sourced it a few years ago, but told users that they still needed to pay for it. His revenue dropped 90% over night. He does get a few source code contributions, but the main development is still performed by him. He no longer makes a living off the project.

2. Total Commander on Windows offers a plugin API. Even though there isn't a "store", there are a few commercial plugins (among thousands). Two of their developers told me that they weren't really making any money from their plugins. This may be because there isn't a proper market place for plugins in Total Commander. But it's too risky to base fman's sustainability entirely on this approach.

3. A "sync across devices" feature, while nice, probably wouldn't create enough value to sustain fman. It's still a feature that (at least paying) users should have access to, though.

If you know of an ingenious other way to monetize fman while making it open source, please do get in touch. I would love to make fman open source, I just don't know how to do it sustainably.

License scheme

Update March 3, 2017: The licensing scheme was improved following feedback from fman's users. Please see the licensing page for details.

You can evaluate fman for free. However, for extended use a license must be purchased. Prices will initially be as follows:

Per year Forever
For personal use $/€ 10 $/€ 39
For professional use $/€ 25 $/€ 79

Updates are included for the respective time period. You can use a license on as many computers and operating systems as you like. Best of all, if you convince your employer to buy a professional license then you get a personal license for free. So if you're smart about it then you don't even have to pay for fman yourself ;-)

Two things Sublime Text has been criticised for are that it is closed source and has a low Bus factor: If the creator Jon Skinner is hit by a bus then all users are stuck in an ecosystem that is no longer maintained. Sublime Text has also been criticised for slow development with no releases for extended periods of time and lack of communication with the outside world about what is going on. I have two ideas how these issues can be addressed. You'll be able to read more about them in an upcoming post.

Michael started fman in 2016, convinced that we deserve a better file manager. fman's launch in 2017 was a huge success. But despite full-time work, it only makes $350 per month. The goal for 2018 is to fix this.