Pay-by-use tools are the computer equivalent to leasing automobiles: they allow the vendor to drive up profits by hiding the real cost of the product.
With profits flat lining, automobile vendors went to leasing in a big way because it let them get new cars into garages of people who otherwise couldn't afford them. Rather than come up with a lower-cost or better-value product, the automakers simply took the one thing that was left to take from consumers: equity.
The result? Cars are more expensive than ever, automakers are more or less profitable again, yet cars are back to selling like gangbusters. Why? Because most people don't understand, or don't care, about the value of the equity they've lost by leasing instead of buying. If they did, they wouldn't stand for it.
The translation of this analogy to EDA/embedded tools is pretty straightforward. Sure, by leasing a compiler you get the latest-and-greatest; in exchange, however, the vendor takes away any mind share you might have in the current version.
To maintain synchronization, a “compiler service vendor” will have to keep header files and runtime library sources online, where they are kept hidden from view. Why would you rent something you could see for free? Developers will have no control over the incorporation of library or tool “improvements,” many of which will break compatibility, change APIs, or change runtime behavior in ways that will be difficult to spot.
Who will pay to recover from those changes? You will. The vendor creates the problem, but you will pay to implement the solution. And without access to the internals of the compilation system and runtime environment, there's little hope of spotting a bug quickly. And you can forget about fixing it proactively.
The alternative? Take ownership in your tools, just as you can take ownership of your car by choosing to buy outright rather than lease. Work only with vendors who will fix the problems you have today, rather than simply shoveling over a new set of them for you to discover tomorrow.
Better yet, take the money you would spend on said tools and spend it instead on getting to know and use the GNU tools effectively. For a suspiciously similar price to those charged for today's full-up supported commercial offerings, you can get proficient with the only tool chain left that lets you own it lock, stock, and barrel — including the source code for the tools themselves, plus the operating system they prefer to run on.
The benefits incude complete visibility into the tool chain's compilation process; complete control over when and where changes occur; and complete control over the number of installed seats and types of host environments. And if something in the current implementation doesn't suit you, you can change it whether the change is beneficial to anyone else or not.
In short, your tool chain becomes just that — a tool — rather than being someone else's profit center.
Bill Gatliff is an independent contractor, a contributing editor for Embedded Systems Programming , and a speaker at Embedded Systems Conferences on the subject of open source tools.