Facebook has some ads off to the side, and one of them aroused my curiosity — an ad for the ProFlight Simulator. I have used flight simulators since the very first version of what was to become Microsoft Flight Simulator, subLOGIC’s FS1 which ran on my Apple II+ back in the 1980s. I have used every version of Microsoft’s flight simulator up to Flight Simulator X, have used X-Plane, even have Aerowinx’s PS-1, a Boeing 747 simulator, but I had never heard of the ProFlight Simulator. I clicked on the link. The site I went to looked pretty professional, complete with a dramatic video link that showed little more than clouds without any game play, and multiple testimonials from supposed users saying how much better this flight simulator was than Microsoft’s or anyone else’s. The packaging looked professional and the cost was only $49. I examined some screen shots. Hmm, they looked ok: not great, not too bad. Time for some googling.
Ranked top of the Google output were a bunch of glowing reviews of the software, but from sites I had never heard of. Nothing from Avsim, the big online flight simulator fan site. Many of the reviews offered the ProFlight Simulator with a deep 50% discount. Odd that I had never heard of this before…
Paging down through Google, a word began to pop up with disturbing frequency: the word SCAM. Further research revealed the following.
ProFlight Simulator is a repackaging of the open-source, free program FlightGear. And when I say free I do mean free as in no charge. I am not talking about pirated copies of software that can be downloaded from bittorrent sites. This is software that is meant to be freely distributed. FlightGear and most open source software (I am using open source and free software somewhat interchangeably here — not quite accurately, but close enough for this essay) are licensed under the GPL (Gnu Public License) or something similar. This license allows one to make copies of the software, change it, and redistribute it, as long as the new copies contain the same license. Unfortunately there is nothing in this license that prevents unscrupulous persons from repackaging the software and selling it for profit, while hiding the fact that the software is available elsewhere for free. The ProFlight site implies (although if you dig through the fine print enough, you can discover the truth) that this flight simulator is an original program developed by “author” Dan Freeman. Furthermore, it is clear from the various online forums that when frustrated purchasers of this program try to get their money back, they can’t.
ProFlight is not the only rip-off ad on Facebook. Check out CDEarth. Actually don’t, unless you want to be ripped off. They have all sorts of software for sale, but it is all free stuff that you can download for nothing. Their office suite is OpenOffice.org. Their Photoshop program is The Gimp. Once you sign for their CDs, they keep coming. Unless you return them right away, you are charged. This site details the scam, but there are plenty other angry customers venting their spleen on this product.
So, Buyer Beware! To all you Mac and Windows users out there, the concept of free software may seem foreign. To fellow Linux users, there is nothing surprising in the fact that there are excellent programs available that are written largely by volunteers for no monetary compensation. What is unfortunate is that there are unscrupulous sorts who will take free software and repackage it as their own, to sell to unsuspecting users for a profit. There is nothing illegal about it; the GPL allows it. It is certainly immoral nevertheless.