Software That Costs Money?

I haven’t paid money for software for a long time. I bought a student license for Microsoft Office in 1999, and I’ve definitely bought a laptop that came with Windows since then, but that’s about it. I’ve given money to organisations that made my software, but I can’t think of another time that I’ve entered a business transaction where I give money in return for a software product. I live in a world of Linux, OpenOffice, with Opera as my web browser and vimfor everything else.

Recently I’ve been reminded that actually people make software that you can’t just dip into, that you have to buy. This is partly because I now work for Ibuildings and we’re Zend Partners – so all of a sudden I have access to lots of Zend products that I haven’t had reason to play with before. I also have a new work laptop that came with Windows Vista, which was less horrifying to use that I’d feared, and nothing like as good as I’d hoped. I’m sure half of the problem is that I really haven’t used windows for a long time, and its quite hard to find your way around unless you’re used to doing things that way.

The very idea of paying for software feels new … it isn’t, of course, but its been so long since I had anything that didn’t come out of my linux package manager, or from sourceforge that it really caught me by surprise. A lot paid-for software is easy to make points against – its proprietary, closed softare, or the same thing could be achieved by free equivalents. Which is true but if you’re not actually going modify the code or use the contributions of a wider community, it probably doesn’t matter. And if you aren’t going to install, set up, and glue together one or more free products, then the paid-for version is probably more up your street. On the whole, there are definitely situations where I can see the point of paying for a better-packaged version, or one that combines one or more functions, or offers support.

Then there’s the aspect that commercial software comes with salesmen and things – there’s a lot to be said on both sides! I’m not sure I’ll be putting my hand in my own pocket for software any time soon, but working with new products is interesting and I find I really would recommend some of them to others. I’d love to hear others’ feelings on this topic as well!

12 thoughts on “Software That Costs Money?

  1. Like you I haven’t paid for software myself in nearly a decade. I have either used Open Source or had software bought for me.

    There are many more arguments for using open source over commercial, for example in general open source code is cleaner and better written than commercial as it acts as a kind of CV.

    The only 2 places I would possibly be comfortable with commercial software is for a single client proprietary solution in which you are often protecting the company’s IP and computer games (and even then I find some open source games better than the commercial alternatives).

    I am really disappointed by Zend Studio for example. Judging by last time I used it (about a year ago) it is written in Java and quite often doesn’t conform the OS GUI standards (especially Mac OSX). It may sound like a minor niggle but it is a major factor for me, I like my apps to behave the same way, hence why I use Gnome as it has a standards document for just such a thing.

    Ill leave you with one thought, have you ever met a software sales droid with scruples?

  2. I feel the same.

    I started off wondering why anyone would purchase Zend Platform when there were free alternatives; but now I’m happy to recommend it to certain businesses.

    Sometimes it’s hard to look at a situation from a businesses perspective when you’re an open-source/free-software enthusiast.

  3. Since joining Ibuildings last november and getting a mac, I’ve bought more software than I ever did in my live. However, these are not the prices you pay for the average windows software. Most of these (independently developed) software is in the range of $15-$30, a price range I feel is reasonable. And most of these software packages do a specific task, and they do it so well that there is no open source alternative that does it in the same good way.

    But even when I was still a linux user, I spent money on software. IMHO, there is no editor that does XML as OxygenXML does, so I bought that one. I am a disaster with regular expressions, so I bought a license for RegexBuddy as well. I also paid for Crossover Office.

    So yeah, I’ve paid for software. Usually when I need something I first check if there is an open source package that does what I want, but if there is a commercial package that does the task much better… I pay.

  4. Like Stefan, I use a mixture of free, open source and commercial software. Generally, I’m happy to pay if the software is better than the alternatives. This includes Photoshop, CaptureNX, Keynote and MarsEdit.

    I also use TextWrangler, MacVim, Eclipse etc as I find these fit all my textediting needs better than commercial alternatives such as TextMate or Forge.

    We also have MS Office at work as whilst OpenOffice and iWork have made great strides in compatibility, they aren’t fullly compatible with some of the spreadsheets we get from clients.



  5. LinuxJedi: I’m much less principled about the open source side of things, I do like things I can just grab and use though. I have met a software sales person with scruples, the key is that they need to not be paid too much in commission!

    Richard: Are you telepathic? Zend Platform is what triggered this post, I was surprised to find I actually can see applications for it in some organisations, its a nice product. I’m on that learning curve for that business mindset you mention.

    Stefan: You make a good point about those small, independent packages that are well worth paying for. Years ago I had a licensed copy of textpad for windows, cheap enough for a student to pay for and a really excellent product in its day.

    Rob…: Keynote is a reason that paid software will always survive, I have used a demo version and if I had a mac, I’d definitely get it. There are some things that are definitely worth it, however as student and then casual developer/blogger, I’ve never had need of them until now. Its really interesting to hear which packages people are using, I will definitely be looking into some of these :)

  6. So you would all donate a small amount to these open-source projects, if the author(s) have a donation link? Or just consume?

    • There is also the concept of “paying” for the opensource project that you consume by contributing to other opensource projects via code, bug reporting evangelism etc.



  7. Simon: that is a good point. Although I have given money to some of these projects, its not enough of the projects and its not enough money really to express the value that those products hold for me. Perhaps I should think again on doing more of the donating.

  8. Simon: I used to run a business that donated with the Distro Watch donations program every month, we helped quite a few open source projects I believe.

  9. LinuxJedi: That sounds like a good scheme – and the reality is that if everyone gave a little bit, a little contribution to the documentation or a few quid every now and again, the projects would be able to stay alive

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