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The True Costs of Free and Low-Cost Software

The True Costs of Free and Low-Cost Software

  • Software bargains abound. Between open-source software, free Web services, and shareware and freeware, there are an increasing number of low-cost options.

    But what are the hidden costs of these options? In The True Costs of Free and Low-Cost Software, Michelle Murrain helps you evaluate whether that affordable package is really a good deal.

    Has your nonprofit opted for free or low-cost software options, only to regret it? Or was any associated inconvenience worth the low price? Share your feedback -- and your advice for other nonprofits -- here.
    senior editor, TechSoup
  • This isn't a very useful article. It lists many of the costs of software but doesn't really compare the costs of free software vs proprietary software (actually, the author doesn't really seem to understand the distinction between free, open source, and proprietary software).
    The article, for instance, doesn't mention the advantages of open source in the ability to customize it to your specific needs or it's advantage in protecting you when the vendor goes out of business (which cannot happen with open source).
  • I agree that the author really missed the boat on talking about the advantages of these types of software. And "buyer beware" certainly applies to proprietary software as well, maybe more so -- I have advised so many nonprofits who made the mistake of buying an expensive, well-known proprietary software package with all the bells and whistles and extensive documentation, only to find out it was extremely difficult to use and the only way to figure it out was to send staff to very expensive trainings.

    There are helpful tips in this article, but the reality is that a lot of the warnings noted in the article for free and open source software are exactly the same for proprietary software! But the article implies that these concerns are only for free and open source software.

    I'm using NeoOffice now, which is for the Mac and is build on the Open Office suite, and I am *loving* it. I'm working with people using MS, and no one knows I'm using something different.
  • Your comments are interesting. I'm sorry that you didn't find the article useful. Part of the challenge of the article for me, as an open source advocate, is to actually make sure that I I made it clear that "free" doesn't always mean "open source" - that there are different kinds of no-cost software.

    The article was not meant to be a description or details about proprietary vs. free and open source software. For that, go to the
    NOSI Primer (which I also wrote, by the way)

    It was meant to look at "low cost" software as a group, and help people understand that software, no matter what the cost to acquire, has other costs to implement.

    This makes me wonder whether things have changed. In the past, people cared much more about whether or not something was free (as in beer) or cheap, and whether or not it was open source wasn't on the radar. Now, it seems that people well understand that acquisition cost isn't everything, and what's more important to some is free (as in libre). Perhaps it's time to change the message, a bit.
  • True costing should consider all direct payments, human effort, and apply some value to the intangible impacts throughout the lifetime of the software. This total cost of ownership (TCO) takes some analysis of the particular setting.

    Like a car or an airplane ticket, the inital cost is usually a small fraction of the total cost of owning a car or taking a vacation.

    NPOs typically supplement shortage of dollar capital with volunteer and overworked staff human capital. In the context of software, as the article points out, this means time and effort spent finding, running, learning, supporting and maybe giving up the opportunity to spend that time and effort on more productive people-facing activity.

    Thanks for providing a sound and comprehensive decision guide for NPOs.

    A. Simon Mielniczuk, ITScooperative, Toronto
  • I think this article is a very good overview of looking at cost of ownership vs. cost of acquisition for software, in general. The mistake is focusing on free/low-cost software.

    In several places, the author points out that these considerations apply to expensive commercial software as well ... but the bias in the headline and focus is undeniable. Is "free/low-cost" just there to make the headline more attention-grabbing? This half-hearted focus on free and low-cost feels inappropriate.

    This article would be far better titled "The True Costs of Software".