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Have you ever considered that there is a price attached to free software?

Cashmanager RURAL business manager, Jo Priddle, explains that nothing is ever completely free when it comes to software.

DEMO (Demo Preview Trailer Trial Ideal) man touch bar search and Two Businessman working at office desk and using a digital touch screen tablet and use computer objects on the right, top view

A commercial provider has invested significant time and money into creating their product and there needs to be a payoff for that company somewhere along the line.

While free software might not have a monetary price tag, a commercial provider has to extract value from the service in some way.

If it is ‘free’ then it is likely gaining value in one of three ways:

  • Selling advertising (and advertising to you)
  • Value from the information they gather about you
  • Up-selling – giving you a taste of a service and then selling you the upgraded version, with additional features.

An example of upselling would be Dropbox or LinkedIn, which have free versions and upgraded premium or business versions that you must pay for.

Dropbox offers a free version, but only up to 16 GB of storage. It has upgraded packages called Pro, Business and Enterprise, which have subscription fees attached.

If you are using the free version and create a shared link, anyone is able to click that link to access your file—people don’t need a Dropbox account to view it.

“If you share a file this way then anyone who gets hold of the link can see it. That might be fine if you’re using it to share family photos, but if you’re using it as a place to house your farm annual accounts as a backup, it’s something you might want to be aware of,” Priddle says.

“It’s not wrong, but that’s the payoff you have to weigh up, you might be happy with the conditions of the free version but it’s good to be aware of these things and make an informed decision.”

With the proliferation of ‘free’ software available it also pays to check what you’re getting and make sure it’s reputable.

An easy way to check is to Google the product, see who else is using it, what other people are saying about it and read the reviews. Technology publications also contain information about software products.

So, next time you are offered ‘free’ software it would pay to check what you’re really signing up for. What are the hidden costs? How long will it be ‘free’? Who has access to this information and does free mean you have given away some of your ownership rights?

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