Over the past few years software makers and independent developers have begun to offer a wide variety of business applications for free (e.g., Google Apps and Adobe Photoshop Express). For budget-conscious businesses these may be appealing options, but there are a few important factors to keep in mind when selecting free software.
Support is a major issue, of course, and so is usability. Many of the free software options have limited functions or are only available online, making offline work impossible. There are some great applications that you can get for free, such as antivirus software and instant messaging programs, but there’s also software that’s worth paying for.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should go free or pay the fee.
Is the Software Mission Critical?
If an application is critical to the day-to-day running of your business it may be best to spring for the cost of licensing the software. Take Photoshop, for instance. If you run a small design firm where you are working with the program every day to fill client orders, it’s probably worth paying for the desktop version with full functionality and support services. Photoshop Express may be great for occasional users and students but may not be the best option for heavy users.
Is the Software Client-Facing?
It might sound like a good idea to cut costs on an application such as PDF creation software; and there are a lot of free online tools that allow you to save files in the PDF format. But many of these services place advertising within the PDF file. Sending documents to clients with ads from another company may not leave the best impression. Consider whether your free software is client-facing and whether it contains ads or other elements that may negatively impact your company image.
How Much Support Do You Need?
Free desktop and server software sounds like a great idea; just think of all the money you’ll save. However, if you are not tech savvy, you may run into a few problems getting the freeware set up on your machine. Even if you have no trouble installing it, what do you do if you need help loading different applications? When considering free software you should also keep in mind what kind of support you think you’ll need. Paying for software with free support may be cheaper in the long run than getting free software and then paying someone to help you use it.
Are There Limits to How You Can Use It?
Finally, free software is often a stripped down version of licensed software. It’s important to look closely at the capabilities of the free options to see if they fit with your needs. Consider how often you’ll use the application and what kind of functionality you need before going with a free option. You may get lucky and find everything you need in a free application, but you may also find that when it comes to software, the best things aren’t free.