Some widely-used computer programs are free, and are supported exclusively as hobby projects by unpaid developers.
Unfortunately, there is no financial mechanism to encourage further development and enhancement of these programs. Even if a hundred million people depend on a program, there is no simple way for them to support the developer.
It would be possible for software developers to figure out some sort of monetization scheme, but this requires a different skillset from software development. Plus, many programmers aren’t interested in also dealing with marketing.
Nearly all programs—both on servers and on regular desktop machines—write messages to a system log somewhere on the computer.
Developers of these un-monetized free utilities could sell out ad space in the logs: instead of a program just writing important data to the log (“USB hard drive failed to respond” or “bluetooth device unexpected disconnected”), the program could also pollute the log files with various advertisements (see Figure 1).
While this is, in many ways, essentially the same idea as having ads in terminal commands (as described earlier), having ads in the logs means that they will be picked up by any monitoring utility and have a chance of being seen even if a server is not used interactively. Plus, these ads will work on servers without graphical interfaces.
Although an “on call” employee might be annoyed to get woken up at 4:00 AM by an error message from an ad, surely they wouldn’t object to it as much as long as the ad was something beneficial, like “FATAL SYSTEM ERROR: SHRIMP PLATTERS ARE 25% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY WITH CODE [SERVERSHRIMP].”
Ethics of Blocking These Ads:
One might say, “hey, I could just run ANOTHER script to purge the logs of these ads.” But really, wouldn’t that be just as unethical as blocking ads on a web site (see Figure 2), or skipping ads on a recorded program? Yes, yes it would.
Fig. 2: Left: this is what someone sees WITHOUT an ad blocker. Right: WITH an ad blocker. Don’t steal bread from developers by blocking annoying ads—it’s your duty as a consumer to endure these ads without complaining.
PROS: Helps encourage development and refinement of formerly-free-and-unencumbered software.
CONS: The ads may consume a few additional kilobytes per day in log files.