It’s that time again - time to rant about software!

All I’ve learned over the past few years is that developing writing software sounds deceptively easy, yet no one seems to get it right.

I’m a big open source fan, as should be fairly apparent. My current setup for bashing out text consists of Bean (OS X) and TextRoom (Linux).

I have used Celtx for comic scripts. Now, Celtx finally includes “novel” support, so I can actually use it for fiction. Celtx has some cool features I really like, like the ability to put multiple documents in the same “project” (so I can just rip out omitted scenes and stash them elsewhere while I rework them) and the cross-referencing system is pretty damn cool.

And this brand new addition is, paradoxically enough, seriously making me to consider spending actual money for evil proprietary writing software.

Software that is not Celtx.

The reason for this is fairly complex, however. In novel writing arena, Celtx is obviously giving hell for software that is also geared toward novelists. On OS X, it’s trying to compete with Scrivener.

Common sense would suggest that there’s really no reason to get worried. Scrivener has a bunch of neat features. If you want them, you’ll pay for them. Celtx is an open source project; if you want features, you should suggest them an hope someone implements them.

The problem is that Celtx is probably not having any of that.

Why? Just a hunch.

Celtx is selling add-ons to the basic software.

Now, I’m not against selling proprietary add-ons for open source if it helps you achieve goals that are hard or impossible to achieve via open source efforts, due to lack of motivation. For example, if some Hollywood studio needs interfacing with some hideous proprietary legacy system that was really popular at some point in time, they can - and probably should - pay for that support. The rest of us, who have used fully open source workflow for ages, don’t need it.

But they’re charging money for stuff that conceivably could go to the core product. Celtx is selling an add-on that enables full screen “distractionless” editing mode - similar to the one in Bean and TextRoom - for $4.49.

I know what people are saying. A low price like $4.49 really highlights the fact that people wouldn’t pay more for it. Dammit, full screen mode isn’t rocket science. Hell, perhaps some newbie who wants to have their first brush with JavaScript and XUL is rolling up sleeves right now and is going to code the feature right n…

…wait. The proprietary full screen mode add-on causes one small problem: you can’t have that feature in the open source product, now can you? I mean, if it was in the core open source product, then you’d not get sales from the proprietary add-on. They cannot accept such code contributions.

So here’s the bottom line: Celtx is selling a full screen mode and a plot organiser as a separate product. This means that while such features would be very fun to find in an open source project, those features will never be implemented in open source Celtx, even if the user community would like to contribute the code.

So, if I want those features in an open source project, I might as well start looking for other programs that do the exact same job. Like, uhm, Bean and Storybook.

And if you assume the problem is that I’m a cheap bastard, then think of the other alternative: If I go out and pay for those features in a proprietary side, I might as well go and buy the better software - and that might well be Scrivener. Why pay $15 for a “Celtx Plus”/”Super Bundle” when I can just go and pay $40 for Scrivener and get far more features? An old proverb says that poor people can’t afford cheap things - you’ve got to buy the best thing you possibly can, so you won’t be needing fixes right away.

I’m not saying I will get Scrivener. Celtx has the basic functionality down, I don’t really need the full-screen mode (I still have a bit of attention span left), and being a Unix guy, I’m not averse to using a huge bunch of tools to accomplish my goals, so I don’t really need an “integrated” solution for writing stuff. I’ll definitely give Celtx’s novel mode a whirl.

What I would be asking for Celtx to do, instead, is that they should really consider the premium add-on strategy an the way they gather money. Open source projects thrive when the core products are open, because this will let people implement features they think are absolutely essential. The focus has to be on improving the product. Creating two classes of products means that the implementors have to consider the organisatorial political implications of the design decisions; if at any point you have to say “you can’t improve the product, because we won’t be making money that way”, you’ve failed at project management. Celtx has found some interesting ways to generate money - the “studio” feature is probably very neat for people who need that sort of things, and the way they’re bringing Celtx to the supremely evil and open-source-hating Apple devices (*insert obligatory ahems from a guy who’s typing this on Emacs on OS X*) is just the kind of stuff I mentioned earlier about fulfilling needs people can’t or won’t be able to do.