Are Open Source Apps Always Better?

open-sourceEveryone loves free stuff, myself included. But thinking of “free” always reminds me of my mother’s cliched saying, “Nothing in life is free.” Well, what about software?

As freelancers, no matter how much money we make, we’re always budget-conscience. Unfortunately, in this day and age of technology, we can no longer get by with just a copy of Microsoft Windows and Notepad. We need software–and lots of it.

I counted over 18 applications that I use daily and that that doesn’t even include the 20+ apps on my iPhone. So, it’s probably safe to say these are all free apps, right? Wrong.

The Case for Open Source Software

The biggest pro to open source software is obviously the price of free. But, what other pros are there with going open source?

  • The community–The best open source software is, without a doubt, WordPress. The coolest thing about WordPress is the community. Since everyone can download it for free, and it’s a great framework, it has a huge support community. You can easily and quickly find a tutorial on anything you’d ever want to do in WordPress.
  • No risk–Open source software comes with no risk. Don’t like the program? Just uninstall it and find something else. It was free so you haven’t lost any money.
  • Variety–There are often open source alternatives to most paid apps if you search hard enough. So, any freelancer can have billing, coding or management software.

Why Free Isn’t Always the Best

Free almost always comes with a price, although it may not be monetary. There are several drawbacks to using open source software.

  • Little or no support–With the exception of a few, most free software I’ve tried have no, or crappy, support.
  • Ugly interface–Since the developers aren’t making money from the app, most don’t hire designers and the apps often look ugly or have poor layouts.
  • Terrible file structures or code–If you’re dealing with an actual framework, the code and file structure can be impossible to navigate and work around easily. So much so, you’d often feel that you’d rather pay for something than deal with the free stuff. This happened to me when dealing with ZenCart and Joomla.
  • Lack of updates  and bugs–When you upgrade your OS, your free software may take its time upgrading–or never even upgrade at all, then you’re stuck looking for something else. What’s worse, it might have a terrible bug that’s never fixed.

Paid Apps Are Often Worth the Price

Sometimes, a free app gets the job done, and does it well. But, sometimes paying for an app will save you both time and money in the long run.

Purchasing apps can be scary though, as it’s normally a pretty long commitment, especially if you’re short on funds. What if you pay for an app and it stinks or doesn’t work right on your system? Try looking for an app that offers a demo, or even better, a full-featured trial. Ask around for opinions and see what people say.

Paid apps are often better than their free counterparts. If I find a bug or problem with the software, I’m much more likely to get a solution from someone I’ve paid. The act of receiving money for something you’ve done is a huge motivator in how well you take care of the product and its customers. Most apps you come across are less than $100 and easily affordable by the novice freelancer. (Go ahead and shake your fist at Adobe now.)

I came across the problem of finding the right app very recently when looking for a new code editor. There are several free and paid apps to choose from. I couldn’t find an all-in-one solution that was free, so I went ahead and paid for an app. However, had I been looking for a standalone editor, there were several free apps that were just as awesome as the paid ones. It all comes down to what you need and what works for you.

Almost all of my favorite apps are paid apps, even though I normally look for an open source solution first. The interfaces are sleek and well thought out. Most of them are bug free and provide great support. (Except, ironically enough, the most expensive app ever, Photoshop. Shake them fists again for me.)

Your Thoughts

What have been your experiences in dealing with paid and open source software? Have you found trends between what one has and the other lacks?

Image by jmarty