A while ago I watched a video called "Why Linux sucks" and the guy talked about how -in order to further the stride of open sourced software- we need to donate money because it takes money to create it. So he was talking about how we should pay what the price for a commercial competitor is, like $600 for GIMP. While that sounds slightly absurd and shocking, it really got me thinking and has changed the way I view free software.
The appeal of freeware is obvious: it's free. You don't have to pay a cent to use it, whether it's for an hour or for 10 years. So it really doesn't make sense to pay money for it when the entire purpose of it is to be free. But if you think about it, most freeware that you use every day take hundreds of man hours to get working, time that the developer could've spent doing work that would actually bring him a steady stream of money. Sure, some people may donate here and there, but it's most certainly not a steady stream of cash like he could get from say a commercial application or other work.
So you're doing it to kind of "pay" the developer for the effort he put into it. Secondly, it shows support. I found a Palm OS app called Due Yesterday that essentially saved my behind through 2 semesters of college. I switched to my iPod Touch after that so I had to bid Due Yesterday farewell, but I loved it so much and wanted to thank the software company that made it (NoSleep) for how easy it made my life and how they released it to me for free that I donated $15 to them.
My point is, freeware is awesome, but it shouldn't always be free. The nice part about freeware is that you can install and use it with no cost and if you find that you don't like it or find a one you like more, you can leave it without feeling like you lost anything. But if you find a freeware that you love and sticks with you like maybe Firefox or CCleaner or GIMP, then you have the amazing opportunity to say thank you. I've been using Firefox for years and GIMP for almost as long and the thought had never occurred to me until I saw that video. How could I not throw a few bucks towards Mozilla for so many years of an amazing software? And plus, you choose how much you want to give. If the product is ok, throw a few dollars. If it's saved your butt tons of times, toss a ton. The developer doesn't put a price on what he thinks you should pay, you get to pick what you think you should pay.
The thing about freeware is that it doesn't have to just be a one way 'relationship'. People love freeware because developers are donating their time to have essentially no guaranteed return; it's like a gift. We can do the same to the developers. They make a software free even though they don't have to, and we can give even though we don't have to. When you donate to a freeware, you're saying "You didn't require this of me, but this is how much I appreciate your software."
Please keep in mind though, I still hate Shareware. I hate trial versions and I hate things that are uber limited, like a ringtone creator I tried that could only export 10 seconds. That's sucks, is stupid, and will not make me buy the product. What I do not mind about is things like Winamp, which has CD ripping capabilities at a limited speed in the free version, and really fast in the paid. That's ok with me, for the free version to have certain things that are not as great as the paid.
That brings up another quick point: another way to support it is to buy the paid version, if there is one. Like I've considered upgrading Dropbox not because I need the extra space (though it would be nice) but because I just want to support them. Or there's things like MediaMonkey which has a paid version, Winamp, and other examples. You can upgrade to the paid version if you don't want to feel like you're not gaining anything. Or you can buy the paid version even if you don't want the extra features, just because you want to give the developer money, like a donation.
Those are my thoughts at least. Others might disagree. I'm definitely going to admit right here and now that I am a hypocrite about this because I haven't actually donated to anything other than NoSleep for Due Yesterday, and I bought a DVD of Peppermint OS. I'd like to be at the point financially (right now I work at a pizza place and attending college) that I could donate, say, $10-$20 a month just to random programs. I'm positive there wouldn't be a short supply. There's actually a new site coming out that's in invitation beta but I can't freaking remember what it's called. Anyway, basically you pick a certain amount and always donate that much. Then you pick sites and programs and basically choose how that money is distributed by weighting how much you like it. It sounds absolutely amazing, and I want to sign up as soon as it opens to the public.
Just something to think about. My thinking about this has changed very much recently and as a potential software developer and thus freeware developer, I sincerely hope that people might take this stance when I make programs that are worthy to be donated at.