Why there really is no free software
This article is concerning companies and organisation which pay money to run their operations. We will refer to companies in this article but it applies to organisations as well.
Time is money
Yes, it actually is. Every single hour of work usually have the following costs:
- Your time i.e. your salary, taxes and medical benefits etc.
- Rent for the office, rent for equipment used like printers or coffee machines
- Costs of equipment like phones, computers, furniture and plants
- Services purchased from others. It may be consultants or services provided by other companies.
- Supporting functions like all the employees that make your workday possible.
What are the costs of software?
All software, open source or licenced have costs associated with them.
- Licence cost: this is the most obvious one and usually the only cost many people think of. Usually it is an initial payment and then a recurring payment (e.g. support or subscription model).
- Time employees need to get something useful done with the software. The cost is the hourly costs of having employees. It contains things like salary, office rent. This cost can be huge since employees work for hundreds or thousands of hours.
- Support. What happens if there is a bug or a new feature is needed? Can you get qualified help when you need it? Support or lack of it can be a huge cost since the time it takes to fix a bug or get an important feature implemented can influence what services and products a company can offer.
Companies prefer to pay for what they use
A company has costs in order to earn money. If the company earns more money than the costs it makes a profit. It is a simple as that.
In order to be profitable it is best to only pay for the things the company needs today. It may be investing in the future but the investment is still needed today. The ideal is not to have large upfront costs or binding contracts for things that may no longer be useful in the near future.
Therefore companies have a lot of "rent" like costs. The offices, the salaries, the leased equipment is all kind of "rented". The company basically "rents" what it needs today to be able to earn money.
So what's the point
The point is: in order to make informed decisions one need to be aware that all software cost one way or another. One may then prioritise some features more then others.
If one have more time then money it makes sense to try to use software with no licence costs. If on the other hand one makes $125 an hour and time is in limited supply it is no problem to buy a software costing $200.
Also it may be better to pay small subscription fee each month the software is actually used instead of buying the software (including the commonly recurring support fees) for a larger sum to just be able to use the software once.
It is better to pay for only the things that are needed to earn money today. If they are no longer needed, there is no need to pay anymore and the cost can be removed.
Employee or staff time
This is usually a large costs given that projects may span hundreds to thousands of hours. Using tools that makes the team more productive is very important. Having tools that are easy to work with is very important. Here the "free as no licence cost" software can quickly become expensive if it is difficult to manage, difficult to understand. Then the idea of "free" quickly evaporates.
Tools like low-code can increase productivity by a large amount.
Getting support is important. Being able to ask someone a question about how something works, have a bug fixed or a new feature implemented is important.
In some cases the support is a mail list or forum. Or it may be The Big Company where you are just one among many thousand customers. Where the support organisation may more be part of "sales" then "support". Or where the support is not really providing anything of value.
The ideal is to have a software provider that cares about you. Where you actually have a chance to contact the people how work with the software, perhaps even build it.