Open Source custom ROMs - photo attribution in link

Custom ROMs don’t, and generally can’t, pay a developer back for time and effort put into development. According to tweets and development threads I’ve read recently, you can generally charge for applications that are built primarily on open-source libraries, but attempting to sell your development work on a custom ROM results in outrage, calls to arms, and pitchforks being brandished in anger.

At the end of this, I’m wondering what you think about charging for ROM development.  As a bit of a contrast:

Paid applications

A good app is a significant investment in time. Bandwidth and hosting are generally provided by Google Play or other markets. As a developer, you probably have a somewhat reduced level of development drama, as people can’t produce your exact same work simply by copying your repository, and your comments from the public are generally a three line review on Google Play.

Custom ROMs

Generally, a good custom ROM has a significant investment in time, bandwidth/hosting issues, developer drama, flack from the left and right, and a lot of time devoted to support for what you’ve created for free, and some of what you haven’t created (like when your ROM gets blamed for not playing nice with someone else’s tweaks).

You also have to deal with manufacturer, carrier,  and user drama on a far too regular basis.

Payment

A lot of ROM developers pop up a donation link, but from what I’ve gathered, donations generally pay for bandwidth, hosting, and beer for what amounts to a part-time, many times thankless, job.

With most custom ROMs being based off of other’s works in some fashion or another, there’s always going to be tons of code that came before, but with this model, at some point shouldn’t someone be able to profit once again from derivative works that cost hundreds of hours of time? If we stick to the notion that you can’t make money off of anyone’s derivative work, where does that leave us? We’ve seen many developers tip their development hat and leave after creating some awesome works, the resulting drama and thankless support not being worth it for them.

Alternately, there have been some frauds who popped up donation links and claimed only two or three people supported their build.prop modification to hundreds of their followers who financially supported them. That’s the beauty of most donate buttons: they don’t tell you what’s been donated.

I also don’t think one developer has the time or inclination to write a completely new OS from scratch that’s completely compatible with Android and yet is still 100% their own code (I’m close to sure that’s not possible at the moment).

Your thoughts?

I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions on this:

  • How do we reward ROM developers who spend countless hours creating, maintaining, and supporting their products?
  • How do we discourage people from simply taking other developer’s works, modifying a few bits, and selling them as their own? Public shaming doesn’t work if they reach the audience first.
  • How do you promote these ROMs to the public?
  • Can you charge for and distribute just a patch of some sort over a base ROM?
  • How do we make Android a better place than it is for developers and users?
  • Should we even want to change things?

Pocketables readers have, in the past, always had interesting insights on these questions, but I’d love to hear your ideas now. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe you do.

Thanks for raising the question, Alex!