The True Cost of "Free" Tools
We often find potential clients looking at Open Source version control
tools, in conjunction with SnapshotCM, who ask, "Why would I pay for SnapshotCM
when I can use the Open Source tool X?" This question implies that the Open
Source alternative is free. But is that assumption actually true?
Perhaps you have potential clients who ask you the same question about
your products and services. Or perhaps you have made use of Open Source tools
in the past. P. J. Plauger, owner of a couple of software companies that have
competed with "free" tools and former Senior Editor of the C/C++ Users
Journal, has written that he used to sell his products to clients who could
not afford "free" tools.
Below, we explore what he meant by that comment by comparing both the
costs and the benefits of commercial and Open Source tools.
The True Benefits
The benefits of the right version control solution are many.
- A good version control solution improves user understanding of your
software assets. The difference between the symbolic names of some tools and
the release graph of SnapshotCM are clear examples of the types of
understanding and productivity improvements possible with the right
- A good version control solution facilitates doing the right thing
and avoiding mistakes. Interacting with release branches is so simple and
straightforward you can be confident in what you are doing. Doing equivalent
operations using symbolic names is slow, cumbersome, and filled with
- A good version control solution complements your processes. Team
coordination and task isolation can be well managed. Branching becomes a tool
to use rather than a feature to be feared. All this while supporting the best
of your processes.
- A good version control solution facilitates communication with
other team members or groups, such as QA and Production. Easy-to-use snapshots
provide baselines for hand-off and accountability while allowing developers to
simultaneously continue checking in changes for the next release iteration.
Reasons behind changes are automatically recorded for examination by others.
And changes can be easily examined.
We could continue. The benefits of the right version control tool are
often under-estimated. Likewise, the costs of a less than optimal solution
exceed what most would imagine.
The cost of a tool set involves much more than its purchase price. In
fact, many factors affect the actual cost of a tool set:
- Initial purchase cost. This cost aspect gets a lot of attention
because it is easily quantifiable. However, it is typically only a small part
of the tool's true cost.
- Training costs. How quickly and easily can users and administrators
grasp a new tool's concepts and get up to speed? Is training help available to
hard-to-install/configure tool is more costly than an easy one. Rather than in
actual dollars, this type of cost is paid in reduced productivity.
- Tool Fit. How well do the tool's concepts fit your development
challenges? A better fit or a higher-level abstraction provides efficiencies
over an incomplete or lower-level solution-providing tool. The worst such
scenario involves a tool that serves merely as a mechanism, leaving you to
implement the high-level solution on your own. Then, even if you manage to do
so, such home-built layered solutions are never as robust or as "free" as a
supported, turnkey solution. In the end, the "free" tool can easily wind up
costing you several times more money and time than an outright purchase of a
solid commercial solution.
- Ongoing usage costs. How efficiently can the administrators and
users perform the tasks they need to accomplish their work? A tool with slow
performance, poor user interface, or poor task fit will slow down productivity.
On the other hand, a tool with good performance and an intuitive user interface
will facilitate quick understanding and productive use.
- Tool reliability. When trusting your software files which for many
companies are one of their most valuable assets to a version control solution,
you want to know that you will not have problems. In the event that you do, you
want additional assurance that someone can quickly address the problem. With
Open Source tools, unless you spend significant dollars to develop that
expertise in-house, there is no such assurance. Even then, there is no
long-term benefit to developing expertise in an Open Source tool's internals.
The bottom line; it's better to create expertise in your product line than in a
tool that contributes nothing unique to your product.
- Support costs. Who stands behind the tools being compared? With
many Open Source tools only the original author is providing support, with no
obligation to address problems or implement new features. In contrast,
commercial tools are actively being improved with significant new functionality
being added every few months.
Relative Cost Analysis
Each cost category should be evaluated to understand the true relative
costs of one solution compared with another. Nevertheless, for brevity's sake,
let's look at just one such cost: the ongoing usage cost.
Let us assume that each user averages 10 minutes per day using one
tool and a less sophisticated solution requires an average of 15 minutes per
day. That extra 5 minutes per day waiting for a slow tool, figuring out how to
do something that the other tool fully supports, or worse, misunderstanding
what one tool is telling you, add up to significant frustration and distraction
costs that are likely to exceed even those 5 minutes per day. Nevertheless,
let's assume it is just 5 minutes per day that's lost. Over the course of a
year, that time loss results in a productivity cost of 2.6 days per user,
which, depending on developer costs, can in and of itself exceed the initial
purchase price of a commercial tool such as SnapshotCM. And time alone does not
account for the relative satisfaction and confidence of the developers.
If you add in the cost of even one day of down-time - the cost of
manually doing something that is otherwise automated, the cost of
administration, or the cost of having to fix, enhance or support the Open
Source tool yourself, or just the cost of developing the expertise to be able
to do so - you will find the extra price tag associated with "free" tools can
greatly exceed the initial purchase costs.
If you are coming from using no version control, you don't know what
you are missing. As a result, anything can look good. However, picking an Open
Source tool can be much more costly than the right commercial tool. We at True
Blue Software Company encourage you to carefully consider the true costs and
benefits associated with any version control solution. In so doing, we are
confident that you will find SnapshotCM a better value. Check us out by taking
advantage of our free evaluation. Go to