Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Can Free Be Enterprise Class?

One of my early mentors, Jaz-Michael King, once explained to me that all "enterprise level" means is that the product includes various pricing levels.

It was not meant as a joke.

Josh Greenbaum, a terrific analyst who makes his money consulting in the world of enterprise software, notes that free software of the sort offered by Google doesn't always work properly, and that companies who rely on free software get what they pay for.

There are lots of other examples of getting what you pay for: I recently went on Facebook to actually try to conduct some business (as opposed to the unrepentant socializing I normally use Facebook for.) That happened to be one of the moments Facebook was performing like one of the kids it was originally intended to server: balky, recalcitrant, and, in the end, largely useless for the function I was trying to get it to perform. I’ve seen Gmail do some similarly amazing things, not-ready-for-primetime things, including resetting my password randomly and being plain unavailable at the very moment I need it the most.

There are several problems with that position, one of which being that I've never seen Gmail behave the way Josh describes. Earlier in his post, Josh also described a glitch involving Google Calendar that could just as easily been user error--which is what SAP would have said if the problem had occurred on its watch.

Which brings me to the next problem with Josh's argument: enterprise software vendors have done such a good job of proving that you don't, in fact, get what you pay form that SaaS vendors like Salesforce.com have been able to bust into the market with unexpected ease by exploiting the foibles of licensed software vendors, and the anger they have engendered in their customers.

No doubt that free software has its issues--but so does software that companies pay for. Customers need to ask themselves which form of troubleshooting they'd rather pay for.

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