Free or Paid software is the question.

That’s a interesting question isn’t it!

That is a interesting question and it has a non-clear answer too! I will explain that dodgy sounding answer coming up here in a bit. Right now however, I just wish to say this. I have seen both versions of software (Paid and Free) get better and better. I’ve also seen both get worse and worse.

Some people think that one is better than the other. They might be correct however it doesn’t mean that it is the correct answer for you. There are several factors that can sway the obtaining and usage of the software question for you. Now we start to get ready to help answer the question.

Why pick one over another?

There might be several reasons one might pick paid over free and vice versa. So here we start down this path and maybe this can help you decide what is best for what you need it for.

Familiarity because you use it at work or other previous experience. This here seems to be a big one especially when it comes to trying to change a office who is used to using brand x of the software to brand y. If you want to be productive immediately, you will need to have chosen a software package that you are familiar with. However the money question might slow that down quite a bit.

Money (purchasing) factors. This is one that can really make a decision for most people here. The cost of the software. Some may have the extra bread lying around to spend on the exact same software that they use at their office place but others do not. Now since some software companies do have a (possibly) lower cost solution in the form of subscriptions. These software subscriptions allow users to use the higher priced software for a monthly fee. These users also have their software updated to the next version for free is the subscription is kept current. However if you don’t pay the subscription fees, the software will cease to function. Please keep that in mind.

TCO Total Cost of Ownership. Whether you work for a business or you do your own thing, this does apply to everyone from casual user to a business user. One needs to actually sit down and look at TCO. This is where it can be a make or break for the software choice. One part of this is again the initial cost. Can you as a individual or business take the initial cost hit? Now armed with that answer, answer this one. Will it be easy for me or my employees to learn and use? How fast can they switch from one software to another? Why did I bring this up? Simple…It is the question of training!

For a home user, we really don’t think about it. We can learn from a variety of sources from places such as Lynda.com to YouTube and learn a new software from these resources. However this is true with people who work in a business environment however while they are glued to a screen or to a professional tutor in a class, they are being paid to sit there and learn. Paid for what is sometime referred to as NPW or Non Productive Work. This can be a good thing or a bad one depending on the companies bottom line and several other factors. Good companies try to keep the productive output high but keep their employees trained as well. Seems like things keep going back to money doesn’t it?

User/Company needs

What does your company need the software for? What specifically does the software need to do in order for you or your company to continue rolling along? This answer like most of the others is not so cut and dry. Depending on your needs and where the future might take you will depend on which one you may need to choose no matter what payment model the program uses. I can give a quick example below. This is not comprehensive at all but is here to hopefully illustrate a point.

Home user doing personal projects using photos. Mainly print pictures at kiosks and at home. Low budget and does not use any software in the workplace.

This individual seems like they are not perusing any kind of business venture nor are they going to share files with any business such as a commercial printer. This instantly tells me that their requirements are very low. IPHO (In My Personal Humble Opinion) they will not need anything as expensive as Photoshop or any software costing over $200. This kind of individual can use free software such as GIMP and Picasa to name a few. Some lower costing paid software that they can use would be things like Photoshop Elelemts and Corel Paint Shop Pro. They will most likely get what they wish to get done with a very low TCO. They obtain the software, choose a learning method (again paid or free) and then use said software for their purposes. In this case, the TCO will vary but should be within the range of most home users.

Home user who also uses software in a production environment is familiar with software.

The only real TCO factors here for this kind of individual is going to be the software acquisition and making sure that his home computer has the necessary components to use the software. They are already trained on the software so that isn’t a issue. This kind of person might need to bring something home from work and finish it to meet a deadline. In this case since the work files need to be at maximum compatibility, then it would be wise for this person to get the same thing they use at work.

Small company uses software for internal use only. Does only use outside sources to get work completed. Most things done in house. Few employees.

Here in this case, it will depend on operating budget and how fast the individuals working at this company will need to get proficient with the software. If the operational budget is shifted towards training only, then some of the free versions of software maybe a good option. Since the actual program is free but you are using the budget to get your workers up to speed on how to use the software, the TCO of that software will be in the training. Also since the work for this company will be only used for final output of something non-digital such as printed pages, manufactured goods or anything tangible, the free software saving formats are not a issue. However if they change the business model to include taking files for processing, they will have to be very careful what files they can use. This can get into a can of worms on it’s own. I’m trying to make this somewhat simple.

Here is some examples that I was asked to evaluate for people

I need to get some software so my little Johnny can type up a school report or two and the wife and I might need it to maybe do budgets and letters. What do you recommend?

My first questions were: Are you familiar with Microsoft Office and what does the purchasing budget look like? The responses were that they weren’t familiar with Office and they were needing something as cheap as possible. Other question were: Are you going to exchange the files the software creates and if so how often? Again the answers were that they really don’t exchange files and will mainly be used for family use and printing documents. My answers were OpenOffice now called Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Both of these software packages will do what they want, very low cost (FREE) and they could either ask me for help or head onto the web and YouTube and see how to use the software. Simple requirements, simple needs, very low TCO with selected software equaled one happy individual.

I need a program or programs for my upcoming graphic based business. I will need to be able to output my files to certain machines and again the money question was a concern since they dropped the money on equipment and not on software.

Ooohhh that is a bit dangerous. I actually puckered up and shivered here. However the questions had to be asked. How often will you need to use customers files? What kind of a budget was I looking at here? Was the owner of the business familiar with using any graphics design software and which ones and were there going to be any employees that needed training?

What came next frightened me more. This person will sometimes need to use customer files but not all the time since the files were mainly used for the production machines in house. The budget was like non-existent, He was not familiar with ANY software and he said that he might be hiring down the road.

Here is what I recommended to this person. I haven’t spoke to them in a while and don’t know what he choose to do. I wish him the best of luck. I suggested for raster files (picture files) that he downloads and installs GIMP and for the vector file part of the equation I suggested Inkscape. Both are pretty powerful and free. Both will work with his existing machinery but the training factor might just come around and cost him greatly! He can absorb some of the cost being the only employee however training others to work for him with software that isn’t “industry standard” might make it a bit rough. This can be done and it has been done but planning needs to be the key word here!

Wow this got kind of long didn’t it? Let’s wrap this up shall we?

Well as you may have read up above, there are quite a few things to consider when trying to answer the question of free or paid software. Someone might have thought, can I do both if the money will allow? Use both paid and free software? Short answer is yes! I do it all the time actually. Just be careful however that some programs have different methods of solving the same problem and the programs will have different abilities and drawbacks. If you can learn those, you will be in great shape! Whatever you choose, just ensure that it will fit into your or your business needs.

Well y’all I’m off to bring out the inner caveman in me. Yep going to go play with some old school technology now. The natural wood charcoal grill!

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