Why fman isn't open source

People sometimes ask why fman isn't open source. This post explains why.

fman aims to revolutionise the file manager niche like Sublime Text has disrupted text editors. This requires years of full-time development effort. I'm investing those years. But at some point, I need an income. The question is, can fman be open source and pay the bills? Here are some ideas:

Ask users to pay, even if fman is open source

I asked the author of a once very popular desktop app about this. He had open sourced his app a few years ago and told users that they still needed to pay. Revenue dropped by 90% over night. Now he gets a few code contributions here and there, but the majority of development is still performed by him. He can no longer afford to work on the project full-time.

Ask for donations

Very few creators are able to make a living from donations. This is likely not viable.

Fund development through Kickstarter

A few file manager projects tried this. Most failed to meet their funding targets. The few that did get funded never got very far.

Offer two editions: "Community" and "Pro"

The Community version could be open source. The problem is that "Pro" features in a file manager are not very cohesive. For example, users might be willing to pay for FTP and Dropbox support. But why force someone who only wants FTP to pay for Dropbox support? It doesn't make sense. Selling features individually is not an option either – see below.

Create a plugin "store"

Total Commander 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. But it's too risky to base fman's sustainability entirely on this approach.

Offer subscription features

One such feature could be to sync your fman settings across machines. While nice, this feature alone would not create enough value to sustain fman.

Find a corporate sponsor

The sponsor would need to have an interest in the existence of an open source file manager. I don't know what that interest could be. But hey: If you are Microsoft and want to enter the niche, get in touch. ;-)

Because none of the above options are really viable, fman currently requires you to buy a license for regular use. You can evaluate it for free. It just greets you with a nag screen:

You can even see much of the source code: Most of fman's functionality is implemented in a plugin. The source code for this plugin is in your fman installation directory.

If you have other ideas of how fman could be monetised while making it open source, please let me know. I would love for fman to be open source. I just don't know how to do it sustainably.

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 $500 per month. The goal is to fix this.