Great that you want a more elaborate answer. We want to be transparent in our actions, in the meantime we lack the resources ( = human time) to communicate and broadcast our messages.
I'm glad that you quoted Ardour, because I think you need to read this comment which especially holds true
I think that people should be under no illusion that, open or closed source, applications don't just spring spontaneously into existance from goodwill alone and that like alot of other creative endeavours, to be really good requires fulltime dedication - all of which needs to be funded somehow.
Currently on Natron, we are 3 full time developers. Natron is a niche software and is crafted towards a very small audience (compared to what After Effects audience is).
We develop and implement very high-end computer vision, computer graphics algorithms that are issued from scientific publications and we also maintain a state of the art software architecture. Most of the research is done by @frederic_devernay and we take great care of coming up with the most efficient compositing engine that we can.
We also have to maintain a GUI, that I will admit we spend a lot less time on it since we have to deal with the highly complex internal engine.
The amount of work we do is probably equal to the amount of work 6 people would do because we also spend a lot of our out-of-office free time developing as well and imagining new optimisations we can make to the software.
A trained engineer capable of coding in this kind of software costs roughly 70K€ a year (tax counted) in France. A senior research scientist cost even more (not a lot).
Think about it, today to make Natron survive we spend a least 70K*3 euros = 210K€
This money today is lended to us by INRIA (we will have to refund this one day when we leave INRIA and create our company).
Currently, the date after which INRIA stops funding us is set to be the 31st of december 2016. (Roughly, 6 months from now).
That means that the company we will make, will need to have enough income to pay our salaries. In short, we need to make at least 210K€ a year, and I say at least, because if we want to hire people to make the software even better we need more money. Yep, that's a lot.
There's nothing magical about Natron being a great open-source software: You have trained developers who develop state of the art software full time without asking for anything from users in return.
This utopia is great while we still have somebody funding us, but the question may be well asked, why would they do such thing ? Truth is, INRIA has already been extremely generous in funding us so far, and this is because they believe we can create something that will one day create enough money to create more jobs in France to keep our highly trained engineers in our country.
We do not develop a general purpose language such as HTML or a general purpose piece of software such as Linux or Firefox that by its nature is of interest for ANY computer related company (including the biggest ones such as Google, Facebook, etc...). I have no doubt that it's really easy for them to go the open-source road as they may have so many industrials interested in their technology.
On the other hand as aforementioned, we develop something that targets very few users, and hence, sponsoring is highly unlikely for us.
I also doubt about donations covering the amount of money we need to make this software run;)
Truth is, we are not going to develop this software for free without having an income that would make us live comfortably: we are not geeks coding in our garage from midnight to 6am everyday. We are employed to do this, and we all have our life (a house, family, mortgage, etc...).
We made it open-source in the first-place because we believe that their needs some kind of common standard tools among computer vision/graphics, and not only C++ libraries that are restrained to a very few amount of people (like OpenCV).
Yes we believe that our tool would be best suited for professional studios to easily interact and work together as they wouldn't have to manage the software license logistic at all, nor to worry about the sustainability of the software they use.
While I described the context now let me enumerate the different possibilities we have to sustain the software and keep it open-source:
Get in contact with studios that are interested in getting the compositing engine within Natron (or Natron itself) within their own tools, which would enable us to continue maintaining the software
Sell support on Natron for studios
Target more audience and sell proprietary dependencies for Natron, such as high-end plug-ins or custom user interfaces
In any case, whichever route we take, we are going to need to have people lending us money to start with and make what we call a business plan.
Without any information about # of downloads and # of users and in which country they are located and some general informations representing what is the audience of Natron (film industry, hobby ?) and why generally people are using it, we may not be able to get any help from people investing in startups.
We did not brutally changed to a required signing just to annoy users. We did this because we need this kind of information to be able to continue developing Natron and keep it the great piece of open-source software it is.
If you have any other ideas, suggestions that might get this project keep going where it deserves, feel free to comment.
I hope this piece of explanation covers your questions and answers to our actions and why we start getting to know more of our users.