Mike Gualtieri and I had a surprising argument about developer downloads with several vendors as we compiled our Forrester Wave: Complex Event Processing (CEP) Platforms, Q3 2009. Developers consistently tell us they want unrestricted platform downloads — no time bombs, no forced contacts with the vendor's sales staff, no limited-function versions. The vendors in question disputed our insistence on valuing download policies that had no such limits.

We thought in this era of open source, everyone understood this point about developer downloads. Downloads are a great way to encourage developers to learn your product's ins, outs, values, and issues. But developers learn at their own pace, not on your schedule. Developers need your whole product because they will follow a variety of paths to knowledge, not just the paths that make sense to you. And developers don't want to listen to a sales rep's pitch on the wonders of your software.

Let your code do the convincing instead. With unrestricted downloads, you are betting that your product will demonstrate enough value for a bunch of developers to launch production projects based on it. You will collect revenue as serious shops come back to you for deployment support including paid licenses. Restrict your downloads and you'll just chase developers away — to an unrestricted alternative. Are unrestricted downloads risky? Yes of course, but this is the world we live in.

What do you think? Are we missing something here?