The above question doesn't really make sense at a point where a handful of applications exist on a framework. However, that clearly is no longer the case, in every conceivable domain, particularly in the enterprise, there are examples of organizations using the NetBeans Platform as the basis of their development. (Even mobile and web developers use the NetBeans Platform, as this article proves.) Even more interesting is the fact that some domains are trying to standardize around a particular platform created atop the NetBeans Platform, for which there is evidence in, at least, the defence, biochemical, and healthcare domains. It would be totally counter productive to simply say: "From now onwards, you will need to pay in order to download the NetBeans Platform." It would potentially be interesting to say, especially since some NetBeans Platform applications have thousands of users: "From now onwards, you can develop on the NetBeans Platform for free, but when you distribute your application, you'll need to pay for each user of your application." I.e., some kind of tracking device could be added to the NetBeans Platform to detect how many users of a particular application on the NetBeans Platform exist and then charge the provider of the application some small fee per user.
Another approach altogether (that doesn't "penalize" you for having a successful product!) might be to close the NetBeans Platform mailing list and NetBeans Platform Wiki, which together are the support lines for NetBeans Platform developers... and make them available to paid community members only, which is a concept the NetBeans community currently doesn't have. Community members would pay a small fee per year for access to the mailing list and Wiki.
And what about the "NetBeans Foundation" approach, i.e., large organizations would pay to become part of a very exclusive group of influential stakeholders driving the direction of the NetBeans Platform, in exchange for an annual fee of some kind? That would definitely give, as a very positive side effect, an even more business-oriented angle to the NetBeans Platform... and potentially encourage JWebPane's speedy arrival, together with its stability and quality, since (based on several discussions with NetBeans Platform based organizations, as well as those considering using it), the single thing of greatest interest is JWebPane. Next on the wishlist, after JWebPane, would be the creation of a generic business platform on top of the NetBeans Platform, which a business-organization based NetBeans Foundation would probably encourage, too. Plus, in exchange for the influence they'd have on the NetBeans Platform's direction, these organizations would also need to (or be encouraged to) contribute development time, i.e., one or more of their key developers would be enhancing & fixing the NetBeans Platform itself. Not a bad deal, seems to me.
However you look at it though, with the increase in scale of NetBeans Platform usage, charging a small fee somewhere along the line can have an accumulative impact. Plus, on top of that, people do distrust things that are free. If they're able to pay (some small amount) they tend to have more faith in it, they then also have recourse if the quality of the product doesn't meet their expectations, since they can then say: "Hey, I paid for this!". And, further on top of all that, I believe companies and individual developers using the NetBeans Platform would be happy to support the product financially, since they're happy with it and like the energetic NetBeans Team that makes so much of their work possible.
It goes without saying (but, for the trigger happy, I'm saying it anyway) that the above ruminations are my own and do not reflect anything else by anyone anyhow anywhere in any shape, form, or color.
In other news. This blog entry has NOTHING to do with NetBeans IDE, i.e., the application you use to create your PHP or Ruby or JSF or Struts applications! If you leave a comment that shows that you do not "get" the difference, it will simply be deleted and your name will be blacklisted so that you will not be able to leave comments here again. You have been warned. :-)