Should You Use Free Software at Work?: Page 2

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3. Make sure what you are about to download is legal and doesn’t violate company policies.

Many companies are wary of open source because they don’t want to be involved in some future class action lawsuit by some vendor that claims their intellectual property was stolen by the open source vendor.

Now we all know that software piracy is prevalent and that engineers are big time culprits. The fact is, you are breaking the law if you are using any hacked software and are putting the company at serious financial risk by using software obtained illegally.

4. Let your manager and your team know what you are up to.

Sure this may raise questions that you don’t want to deal with, probably regarding my prior points, but it’s important that you don’t waste time on something that might be solved another way. Or it may turn out that your manager puts this at the bottom of your priority list and would not want you wasting cycles on it.

5. Explore the hidden costs.

Many vendors give away products so they can come back and sell you something else. When you register for the download, your information goes into their sales database. Most vendors respect privacy and won’t share data, but the fact is they have your information and their goal is to sell you something else. So expect a future sales pitch on add-on modules, support and maintenance or additional services.

Earlier I mentioned lost opportunity costs, mainly referring to the time lost on a product if it doesn’t pan out. You could also end up spending more time troubleshooting, wading through online knowledge bases or even having to attend some training. Even if training is free, it takes time.

Some products are free, but require you to pay for maintenance to obtain future upgrades. You may be able to get by with the baseline functionality, but be prepared to pay for future upgrades or services to totally fulfill your requirements.

These are all important considerations from the engineer’s perspective. Now that I’m working for a software vendor, I’m viewing the whole free tool thing from a different perspective. We are currently having a debate within our company about a new tool we have developed and whether or not we should give it away or sell it. The argument is to give it away and leave bread crumbs to our priced products, and then we’ll generate a slew of new sales leads – see #5 above.

I eventually acquiesced to the engineer and the tool turned out to be fantastic. So much so that we purchased other modules and maintenance and support. Hey, software vendors have to make a living too!

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Tags: open source, Linux, services, IBM, virus

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