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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.

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 Costs

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:

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.

Your Solution

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 for details.