Free software have been around for quite some time, and even today, the developer community is creating software that anyone can use free of charge. Even platforms like Apple’s iOS that are closed, and platforms that we pay for, like Windows for example, offer tools with public licences.
However, a lot of developers earn money by selling software solutions, so if there are already free versions, why do people buy them? Here, we will examine what are the pros and cons of free software, in order to uncover if they are reliable tools for the developers.
What is free software?
In order for a software solution to fall under the “free” category, it must fulfill a certain set of conditions.
- Users are free to run or use the program as they see fit.
- Users should gain access to the source code, which allows them to study how the tool functions and they are also allowed to alter the code if they want.
- Users can freely distribute the copies of the software to anyone they want.
- Users can freely distribute the version of the software they have developed by altering the source code of the software.
If the software meets these conditions, then it can be defined as free. On the other hand, proprietary software is purchased, and users are usually not allowed to create their versions and redistribute it.
It is free – Pro
Well, the first advantage is quite self-explanatory; you do not need to pay. Moreover, just because the software is free it does not, by any means, indicate that it will lack in quality when compared to the proprietary versions. In fact, there might be free software you are using at this very moment (OpenOffice, Mozilla Firefox, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Microsoft Live Email, etc.) so it is completely possible to find reliable tools even without paying.
Developers might lose interest – Con
The problem with free software is that it doesn’t incentivize its developers to improve it further, or create updates. Again, it does not mean that they won’t do it, but should developers find a more interesting or more lucrative project, there is nothing that stops them from abandoning their free software project. Considering how developing this type of software is the labour of love, the projects that earn funds will always take precedence.
Flaws are quickly identified and dealt with – Pro
If there is one good thing about free software, it is that a lot of users tend to start using it right from the get go. So, with a wide user base, flaws and bugs are easily identified, and by collaborating with developers, they can point out to the areas that need improvement. Truth be told, in many cases, a free version is released in order to pick up on these flaws, and so that developers can create a superior product that will be purchased.
Another way how free software can be upgraded is by the community itself. A lot of eager developers are also users, and since they love problem solving, they can improve the software and post those solutions. This is how free software is beneficial to developers, since someone else can help them solve problems.
The support is not obligatory – Con
On the other hand, you can encounter software that doesn’t offer support at all. So, if you rely on a certain tool and it doesn’t function properly, there is a chance that you will either have to abandon the whole project, or find the solution to fix the bug yourself.
Purchased software usually has an instruction manual or some kind of documentation that can help, but there is no guarantee that you will find the same files when using free software. Lastly, you might have a hard time navigating free software, as it is not developed for the masses, and as such, it lacks a neatly organized and user-friendly interface.
So, these were the pros and cons of open source software. As you can see, it doesn’t mean that any free software is automatically inferior to the ones that are purchased, but logic dictates that, as a customer, you will receive more respect from providers. In other words, you should look for free software that has a large user base that can vouch for it, and that is constantly improving. In the event that you need to create important data using software, it is always safer to purchase tools that receive ongoing support.