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Help me as I don't understand ... why pay for free stuff?

Ok, you're gonna have to help me out here.

It's a very simple question.
Why, as an organisation, would you pay for software you can get for free?

That's it, that's the whole question - why pay?

Why would you pay for Microsoft Office when you can use OpenOffice?
Why would you pay for Oracle database when you can use MySQL?
Why would you pay for Microsoft Windows when you can use Ubuntu?

I genuinely, honestly and openly want to know - what have I missed?
Why is your organisation paying for software when it doesn't have to?

Leave a comment.

Or, if you prefer, drop me an email at


  1. Because it's easy, because it's what is known, because that's how it has always been done.

    These are not good reasons, they're just reasons.

  2. Why not OpenOffice? Many reasons including: training users (this is a serious issue for bigger companies), deployment and updates (MS products all have backend technologies to easily manage the deployment and updates), document compatibility still not perfect (especially custom macros and templates that use VBA.)

    Oracle instead of MySQL? Usually because of a legacy app that only supports Oracle. The same goes for MS SQL Server - usually part of the system requirements for most corporate apps.

    Windows instead of Ubuntu? (I assume you mean on the desktop?) Same reasons as the OpenOffice/MS Office debate. Plus you can't just swap Windows for Ubuntu in a managed network, as you need all the backend stuff to support Ubuntu too - like authentication, centralised updates, deployments, audits, management tools, etc...

  3. as someone who breaths spreadsheets neither google or open office compare with microsoft office. It's just better in so many ways.

    and like it or not ubuntu etc is still for geeks. there are people who can't work a simple wondows install, they would kill them selves trying to understand ubuntu.

    for large deployment the software needs to be easy for those who are scared by computers.

    we are not those people. So you need to think like them

  4. @style

    Excel / OpenOffice ... hmm, Ok, will bow to your superior knowledge there. And yes, definitely MS Office/OpenOffice have more/different functions to Google Apps - but it probably serves to a lot of what people do ... but maybe not as many as say Word/Google Doc because it is definitely a "numbers" thing used by Accountants (generally, in offices).

    Ubuntu - why would you say that?

    It's a fully working operating system that is superior to Windows (security, look/feel, simplicity ...) and equal to Mac. I don't understand why you think it's for geeks. My family use it and they think its much better (when they care to notice) - they are not geeks in any shape or form.

    Here's a bet - if you placed OpenOffice on an Ubuntu machine, skinned it to look like XP your average user wouldn't notice the difference. That's thinking like them! And the saving would be in hard cash!

  5. @hamish - *sugh*, probably correct.

    @stuart - so in essence, it's too hard.

    And if it were going from one piece of s/w costing $100/user to one costing $50/user I'd probably concur. But it's free software - the cost to change is a cost and then that's it, isn't it? I could be done incrementally as old h/w dies ... maybe.

    Sorry, just seems like you're saying that organisations are locked into one path and therefore can never get off it. If it weren't for the fact it is free software (licence free I mean) then I wouldn't ask ... but surely that has to be a reason to stop, look around and think.


    Again, asking the question with a totally open mind as I'm really interested why "free s/w" is hardly on the agenda with organisations.

  6. Here's another reason.

    Free = $0 cost that then implies little value.

    "You get nothing for nothing in this world"

    Charge $50 for a service and it's only worth $50 to those that pay. Charge $150 and the value is increased for no change in the service. Where does that leave charging $0?

  7. I've seen this question debated elsewhere, and in a lot of ways it comes down formal supportability. The argument that I read was that there's not enough firms (or even individual talent) out there to support anything other than Windows.

  8. There is an important leadership point.

    Why would anyone go to the grief of trying to convince a whole org, take them through the temporary pain and put up with the ongoing interoperability issues caused by Microsoft intentionally.

    It's just money, and it isn't MY money, it's the companies money.

    I know that I wouldn't take on that much grief voluntarily.

    No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft.

    Sad but true.

    Excel and Access for instance is used in my organisation (and many others) as a replacement for centralised apps, it transforms and routes around business processes that are a bad fit for the business (or more likely the individual). It fills in a pretty big hole between Big Enterprise Applications and the 'Real world', where business process maturity is low, requirements are unknown, business cases are not there, management is intractable, IT is too slow and unresponsive just to name the big issues.
    Just proposing to port some of these apps to Ooo would be painful.


  9. @Anonymous
    "Formal supportability" - I can sort of get that for the enterprise apps (MySQL etc etc) but for the office apps (OpenOffice ...) I would be surprised if that would hold up water.

    What is the "supportability" here in Wellingon (NZ) for open source 'enterprise' apps - the databases, ERPs, SaaS etc etc - anyone?

    So it's too hard to think about and because it's not "my" money I don't need to? Not sure about the morality of that, especially if working with public money as a lot of people do in Wellington, Whitehall and Washington.

    And maybe it doesn't have to be all or nothing - maybe phase in "free" - they all work together now-a-days don't they?

    As for the "IT issue" you mentioned - surely a free ($0 licence fee) piece of s/w is an even bigger incentive for the actual business to go off and do their own thing. The question still stands then, why do THEY pay for (in this case) Microsoft Office when there's a free alternative.

  10. "MS Office/OpenOffice have more/different functions to Google Apps - but it probably serves to a lot of what people do"

    I use OpenOffice at home, as I'm buggered if I'm going to pay for MS Office when OO does most of what I want. However, that doesn't stop me from getting annoyed at some of the little things it doesn't do, like display two pages side by side or convert text to columns (without using a hacky add-on). Little things, but frustrating & time-consuming when they've become part of your workflow or semi-conscious way of doing things. If I were paying for my time, the extra time I'd spent working out different ways of doing things might have added up to the cost of commercial software. And in some areas the result is just not professional: witness the lack of anti-aliased graphics in Impress.

    I'm personally quite happy with Inkscape instead of Illustrator, as I was accustomed to the now-defunct Freehand, and I might as well invest in learning a free package that meets my current needs than one I can't personally afford. However, I'm now facing the prospect of having to use The Gimp at work, as after a reorganisation our group has one fewer Photoshop license. It'll probably still let me do everything I need in some way or another, but no adjustment layers?!? Arrgh!


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