Have you ever taken the time to read the ‘license.txt’ file that comes with your WordPress installation? No? Don’t worry, you probably aren’t alone. Must you be familiar with software licenses correct? Ah, there we go, something you do know a little about. Most software you need to purchase in order to legally use or own. WordPress, however, is slightly different. It’s built on the GNU General Public License which means you are able to give it to whomever you want…for free! Really, it’s right there in the license:
“You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program’s source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.”
The codebase for WordPress is maintained by a group of coders who are not just developers, but users of WordPress. Even you could contribute to making WordPress better by identifying bugs in the Trac (core.trac.wordpress.org & requires a WordPress.org login). The same people who help identify bugs and issues with WordPress also are some of the same people who develop the plugins and themes you are using, myself included. Most of these plugins are free of charge and available for use under the same license as WordPress itself. You may find, however, that every now and then you will stumble upon a ‘Premium Theme’ or ‘Premium Plugin’. These are not free additions to WordPress typically and come in a wide variety of costs and functionality.
There are some open source fans that think paid content for a free platform is just not right, and there are others who welcome the idea of a paid addition to free products. I’ll give you some of the pros and cons of both of them.
The Free Philosophy
Is free better right to most people right? In an open source community, most people just assume that software will be licensed as free and open. Not to mention, who doesn’t like that price point, FREE! As with any free product you have to expect that you may find some delay in the identification of bugs and the release of the correction. For developers free is nice because it spawns, typically, a much larger user base, it encourages people to try their product since there is no cost to doing so. As a user, free is desired because, well, there is no cost! No cost allows the user to experiment and expand their site with no commitment.
You might ask then what the downfalls of free content are. As mentioned, a lag in the development life cycle is the main issue since most of these developers have full-time jobs outside of this venture. You may also get ads, or ‘tags’ to donate. While those do offer an income incentive to the developer, they aren’t guaranteed, so I still consider it free. People who develop the free content, are free to host their plugins and themes at WordPress.org in their Extend section.
The Premium Philosophy
A question I hear often is, “Why would someone charge for an addition to a free product?” The answer is pretty clear, it’s profitable. If you develop a plugin or theme that meets the needs of a large user-base and market share at a low enough cost, then you will most likely make lots of money. Premium/Paid plugins and themes typically get a much larger support community built around them and the developers and designers of them put more time and effort into maintaining them because they are getting paid to. It is essentially their full-time job. That’s not to say that the developers who give away their content freely don’t offer great support, but there’s less of an incentive to when it comes down to the barebones of the fact that…developers need to make money as well. Premium plugins and themes will usually have a much larger array of options and settings to expand your site as well.
Typically the premium content cannot be found at WordPress.org in their Extend area because here, you can freely download the distributed plugins and themes. The developers and designers must host it themselves, or with another resource that offers the ability to protect their assets.
Do I use Paid plugins or themes? That answer is no. I do not have a plugin or theme that I paid for in use. My thoughts are that people who aren’t familiar with the coding of a theme or how a plugin works but wants something to simply function may want to look into Premium themes or plugins. If you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, you can use free themes and plugins, and modify their code to meet your needs. This is not for the faint of heart however and can cause some adverse effects.
Simply stated, I can typically modify a theme or plugin to meet my needs, but that’s not to say if I find a must have premium theme or plugin, I won’t pony up some cash for it. It’s best to think of your WordPress site the same way as your Smartphone. If the product is something you will use daily and “can’t live without” then what’s the problem with throwing a few bucks at the developer. Whether it’s by paying for the application/plugin or by donating, the developer will appreciate it (full disclose, I have a “Donate” button on my plugin page, but I don’t expect it to be used).
Whatever your needs be for your site, I think you can probably find a free plugin or theme that will meet it, but if you want great support with a product that has the better chance to be updated more frequently you may want to look into a paid solution. Again, this isn’t to say that a developer of a free add-on will not support their product but if you think about it, the odds are just in your favor.