With all the great freeware products I discussed in my last article, it may leave you wondering if paid software is worth the money. The short answer is “it depends.” If you are a home user with no intent of doing any commercial activities with the software, then the answer is “likely not”, however if you want to do a small home business or are a full fledge business the answer is “absolutely!”
If you look at the End User License Agreement or EULA on many of the free applications, they are free for non-commercial use only. What this means is if you are using it to make money, you need to either pay the freeware company a fee or find another software that allows commercial use.
Commercial or paid soft does offer some advantages. One of the biggest advantages is in integration. Now what do I really mean my integration? Simply put integration is where multiple applications link in with each other and function together. One of the best examples of this in the Microsoft line of products where the domain management software called Active Directory links in with its email product Exchange to share users and make changes the email user’s account directly from Active Directory. This gets expanded if the company uses Microsoft’s Office Communicator Server (OCS) instant messaging application that not only hooks in to active directory but in Microsoft’s email client Outlook by natively displaying a user’s chat status and linking that to items on their calendar to show free/busy times. It further allows you to start a chat instance directly from Outlook without having to pull up the Office Communicator window and conversely, be able to start an email from within the Office Communicator application. You generally do not get this level of shared functionality out of group of freeware applications produced by various vendors that normally are not working together.
If you look at things like photo and image editing, the premier application currently is Adobe’s Creative Suite line that includes Photoshop and Illustrator. While it is a costly suite of software, if you are going to be doing this kind of work as a moneymaking activity, spend the time and invest in the correct tools to do your trade. While you may be able to do “everything” using a group of disparate applications, you will save yourself time, and as such money, in the long run by buying the right application for the job at hand.
While everything I have discussed to this point is important, as a businessperson, small home office or large corporation, one of the key things with all of these products is the readily available training for the various software applications. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and the like have a large ecosystem of training for users and IT professionals. Most also have some form of certification track so that professionals have the ability to demonstrate levels of competency to their employers. This is good for a business in that you are not locked with software you cannot hire someone to come in and maintain because it is a little known application with not viable training system. Even for the home user, this vast training system is beneficial. Many colleges offer extension and even credit courses on the use of software products that can allow you to maximize the use of the software you have purchased.
The final major advantage of paid software is that you have a high degree of confidence that you are going to receive things like patches and hot fixes for the software as security issues become known. Using a freeware product, you always run the risk of it becoming “abandonware” where the developer has stopped supporting and developing it and now you have a software that is a security risk with no way to fix it or in some cases, move it to a new version of your operating system. Paid software, especially those from large established companies like Microsoft, Apple and Adobe have teams dedicated to not only patch management, but also have a plan for the next iteration of the software and plans for backwards compatibility.
Overall, freeware is not bad, it can be a great bonus to make a home user’s computer a truly functional system, but businesses generally should be using properly licensed commercial software to leverage the most out of their IT assets and comply with the applicable legal requirements.