Can Commercial Software Compete With Free Software?
Yes. Of course. Indeed. With a doubt. Indubitably. Incontrovertibly.
I could give you a reasoned explanation. Instead I’ll list some examples of good commercial software that exists and thrives despite excellent free alternatives.
Here are a few:
- JIRA bug and issue tracker is commercial. Bugzilla is free.
- Transmit FTP software is commercial. Cyberduck is free.
- IntelliJ IDEA Java IDE is commercial. Eclipse is free.
- Poker Copilot for Mac OS X poker tracking software is commercial. FPDB is free.
- Perforce source control software is commercial. Subversion is free.
- Oracle database server is commercial and hideously expensive. MySQL is free.
- Mac OS X operating system is commercial. Linux is free.
So how can commercial software exist and thrive where adequate free alternatives exist?
I’m not quite sure. But I’ll have some guesses:
Commercial software has better marketing
Consider Bugzilla’s top-listed “feature”: Optimized database structure for increased performance and scalability
JIRA says this at the top of their feature list: JIRA simplifies every step of tracking bugs for everyone involved.
I know which one is more likely to convince me it is software worth trying.
Commercial software often has better support
The financial imperative is a powerful one. When people are paying you for your software – and you require good word-of-mouth advertising – or you are trying to convert potential customers into paying customers – you have a strong motivation to support customers quickly and effectively.
Free software often costs less money but more time
Consider my free competitor, FPDB. Want to install it? Check out the instructions here. If you are brave enough and eager enough to take on that task, go for it. Otherwise, come back here and get Poker Copilot on your computer using our simple-as-can-be process.
Commercial software often does more, looks prettier, has better user guides, and is easier to use
The rule of “you get what you pay for” applies generally in software just as it does anywhere else in life. Yes, there are some notable counter-examples though.
Although I develop commercial software, I use free software everyday, as well as software I pay for. This is no “commercial software is better” manifesto. Just some reasoning going through my head that I felt compelled to blog.