At ConvergeSouth I gave a presentation on free and open source tools for business. Although not one of my normal speaking topics, it was a really fun presentation and I had a great time showing some of the free tools and products we use from day to day in our companies.
The True Cost of Free
Nothing is free… everything comes with a cost. There are monetary costs, productivity costs, opportunity costs, and risks (which can turn into costs later).
Before you choose a free (or paid) solution, look at all the real costs associated with it.
If you download a free open-source word processing software, it may take marginally longer to build a document than in the popular commercial software equivalent. That time different and frustration from a slightly less-usable interface can add up over time. At some point, it may be worth it for you to just spend the money on a commercial application.
Another cost to consider is your privacy. When you use free web services, such as Google Anallytics, you are giving another company access to sensitive information, and trusting them to keep that information safe. Giving up privacy is not necessarily a material cost, but it is a cost nonetheless. But there are real costs if that information is compromised or lost.
Below are the tools we discussed in my presentation. I will add screenshots from the presentation when I get a bit more time.
Productivity and Collaboration
- Google Analytics
- Google Keyword Tool
- Google Trends
- Google Website Optimizer
- Google Places
- Google Alerts
- Google Reader
- Hubspot Website Grader
Web Design & Development
Adobe Browser Labs
E-Commerce & Web Hosting
I didn’t talk about e-commerce software or web hosting specifically, but I just want to stress that this is an area where you do not want to go the cheap route. I get asked a lot about free or open source e-commerce packages. Yes, there are several platforms available, one being Magento Commerce, but none of them are really free.
E-commerce software is very complex, and holds very sensetive information such as customer details, thier payment information, and your financial information. One security flaw that allows someone to access sensetive information can open you up to severe liabilities.
And both the software and the hosting are critical in being able to make money and reach customers. If a software update renders your website unusable, or your webshite hosting goes down frequently, you could lose thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.
It’s my personal opinion that these are two areas where spending money is definitely appropriate. We have managed dedicated servers with ServInt and Rackspace, and use several different e-commerce packages including Interspire and ShopSite.