Is JPedal free?

There was an interesting question posted on stack overflow asking ‘Is JPedal free?’ It is a intriguing question so let us unpack it and see what it might mean because it raises a lot of general issues with software.

Free is a word which means very different things to different people. The Open Source community often talks about free as in Air and Free as in Beer (meaning free from limitations and free of any cost to use). So what do we mean by free?

JPedal is developed by IDRsolutions which is a small UK software company. We have a team of full-time developers which is how we can do monthly releases and answer questions on the forums. This is a cost which we fund from sales, support and consultancy of our PDF library.

JPedal is a commercial PDF library, so it is not free (and it cannot realistically be because no income means no money to fund development and support). OEM customers also get access to the source code so they have free access to the product in the sense they are not limited – they can alter it if they want. Commercial users get free support in the sense we charge everyone a yearly fee to cover general support costs.

We also have a cutdown version of the PDF viewer which we release under an LGPL license. This means that you can access the source code and the jar and use them without any payment. You just have to abide by the LGPL license. In this sense it is totally free.

We build it from the full version and remove items (so it gets most bug fixes and some features). So it is free in that sense. Our hope is that it will encourage lots of people to use it, to do interesting things with it and some may become commercial clients. And we like to have a free entry-level version – it appeals to the rebel in our nature ;-)

And being a cut-down version of a commercial product means you are likely to see updates – there are several ‘dead’ free Java PDF libraries because they do not generate any revenues to put back into development and support.

But ‘free’ software still has costs. You still have to evaluate the alternatives, you have to work out how to use it and you have to support it and provide much of your own support. Even if a library has no ‘license’ costs, there is a large time cost.

So there is no such thing as free software or do you disagree?

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Mark Stephens

System Architect and Lead Developer at IDRSolutions
Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

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About Mark Stephens

Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

4 thoughts on “Is JPedal free?

  1. +1: I couldn’t agree more!
    I used to think “no money = no worries” so I offered iText for free in the past. I can now say in all honesty that this doesn’t work!
    Software doesn’t just “happen”; there’s always somebody who pays for it. Reality got back at me in many different forms: a social security service who didn’t believe I was working for free and who almost taxed me to death, legal departments who expected me to sign all kinds of documents putting the responsibility on me rather than on the free user (obviously I didn’t sign anything), developers who DEMANDED an answer to their URGENT QUESTION,… These are all costs besides the hours you spend coding.
    Moving to a license that requires buying a license if you use the software to make money, was a difficult step for me, but it was unavoidable and beneficial for the software and its users.

  2. Also having a cost results in people giving a value to your time. If you are offering your time free and unlimited, I will ask you first for everything and given the choice between 5 minutes of my time and your weekend, many people will choose the second.

  3. questionable

    I understand your monetary concerns guys but there are other global software trends. I think it is just a matter of time until commercial libraries for small things like generating pdf from Java will disappear. When we have such a huge projects for free (like beer) like linux OS and many free Apache projects it is just a matter of time when open source community will pay enough attention to niche software like yours. Open source community is huge and many its projects are backed up by really big commercial companies. So it is just a matter of time your libraries disappear even your justification for charging money is valid now. I think there is already pdf library under development under Apache. Long run I think you would be better of sticking with open source and getting paid for support and possibly getting support from big companies through open source channels if that project gets enough attention. The way you have chosen you are doomed I think. And many projects wont use you just because of the nature of your licensing.

    • It may well be that IBM or similar releases develops and releases a PDF library for their own requirements because they are not happy with the existing PDF libraries. There are several Viewer libraries under LGPL licenses (which is hardly restrictive) and IText is under AGPL. There are also loads of commercial offerings – free does not mean free (as I argued in the article), it means other costs.

      We tried several licenses with JPedal and in practise people try it and if it works they use it for free or they go elsewhere. There is no business model based on a less pervasive license and support for this type of product. Customers who only use it if its free are not a market which will fund the developments.

      Apache has adopted PDFBox but that is more a creation/editing library. A viewer is a very different thing and you would need to do a lot of work to raise it to the standard already out there.

      Sun released their PDF-Renderer under just such terms as you suggest and it has seen very little activity. So I would disagree with you. Having a dual licensed library such as ours is the only way to provide the community with an actively developed OS library (I think you will find the likes of IText and us do it mainly for the passion by we do have families to feed). Of course we would be happy to reconsider if IBM wants to write us a large cheque!

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