Thank you all for your input on this matter! We understand that finance is quite a sensitive topic and there is much confusion on what FOSS actually means.
To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.
About six years ago, when Sebastian started this project and I joined a year later, we wanted to make a great product that has a laser focus on a client-side encryption software for cloud storage services that can be used across all platforms and is easy-to-use. To be quite honest, it was “just another” project back then. You can still read about the initial motivation here: https://sebastianstenzel.de/blog/2014/02/02/open-cloud-encryptor.html
It was clear from the beginning that we wanted to achieve two things:
- The desktop version should be completely open-source.
- The encryption scheme has to be public and well-documented.
Of course, we also had to think about how to finance this project. Ideally, we wanted to work full-time on Cryptomator without being distracted by other work that had to be done to pay our rent. That’s how we came to this monetization strategy:
- Present the desktop version as a “pay what you want” app on our website.
- Make the iOS app open-core and sell it for a one-time fee on the App Store.
Basically, the donations and sales from our iOS app were our main and only income back then. It was a very high financial risk for us to also make the iOS app completely open-source because we didn’t know what the impact would’ve been in the App Store ecosystem. Our team grew and we had to be able to pay salaries and couldn’t afford the risk.
Years later, things have evolved. We were able to grow our team to work on and publish an Android app, to modularize our software components into open-source libraries, and to found a company that has the main focus to maintain and improve Cryptomator. The harsh reality is that we can’t do all that just by giving everything away for free and we now also felt the growing responsibility to make sure that Cryptomator runs reliable across many systems. And unfortunately it’s not enough to just rely on voluntary donations, even though these have been and still are crucial. We also felt that the old website made a wrong impression that you had to pay for the desktop version, even though you could’ve just entered “0”.
We have decided to enable the download on the website first and ask then for donations. That’s why we were forced to be more creative about our monetization strategy. We removed the “pay what you want” buttons from the front page and added a “donation” tab in the Cryptomator settings. I’d like to emphasize that we will not limit any functional features and the software will always remain fully usable free of charge. Yes, technically we’re selling the dark mode but we didn’t take dark mode away from an existing feature set, it was completely absent before the introduction of the donation key. Past donors were also eligible to request a donation key without paying again. We wanted to be very fair about that.
We haven’t changed the monetization strategy of the mobile apps. They are still available for a one-time fee and users weren’t forced to pay again even though they have used the app with free updates for many years. There is nothing much that we can do about transferring licenses across different ecosystems. Google Play and the App Store are two different platforms. And the desktop version is also on a completely different platform with a different license. I don’t understand why this is being seen as greedy.
We are very grateful for all the support over the years, not just in regards to donations but also for all the feedback from the community and contributions in many ways like code, translations, discussions, and extensive tests. Of course, we are still growing, figuring things out, and will make changes along the way but we are true to our nature that we don’t want to restrict core features behind arbitrary paywalls. In an ideal world, everything is free of charge and open-source, maybe we’ll get closer to that someday but we have to face the challenges of being a company as well.