Call me a little slow, but I just started picking up on this whole new world of ad-supported software applications. The amazing thing to me is that despite the lack of licensing and maintenance revenue, there's some pretty cool ad-supported software out there that actually works quite well. But are you OK with banner ad's flashing across one of your enterprise apps in exchange for a purchase price of $0?
As I sat down this week to start an upcoming review of a network management tool from a startup called Spiceworks, I got a queasy feeling as I saw my network inventory intermingled with ad's floating about. But as I started to play around with Spiceworks, I started to see why there are 325,000 active users of the product -- it's a great tool. But with all good there is bad, and that leads me to the point of my blog today. Despite the fact that ad-supported software appears to be here to stay, I have major security concerns about using them in a production environment. I guess I've been burned by malware too much in the past. I don't mean to intimate that Spiceworks contains malware, because if it did it would already be out of business, but we should all be wary of products that are completely ad funded.
Security isn't the only issue, though. What about the long-term viability of companies adopting the ad-only revenue model? Ad revenue is volatile, and as a result can't be generally relied upon to fund ongoing support and development. A point could certainly be made that if you're paying nothing, then your risk is nothing. But given the administrative and management resources that go into implementation and ongoing management, the cost is far from zero for IT shops.
What seems to be working for the software development companies with long-term staying power is a semi ad-sponsored model, where you either: A) Give it away until your base is sufficiently large, and then start charging for the software (i.e., dnsstuff.com); or B) Charge a small licensing fee to take away the ads (i.e., Spiceworks).
I'm personally excited to see more open source and ad-sponsored players like Spiceworks jump in and build solid community developed solutions for the SMB marketplace. Most of these IT shops lack the budgets needed to purchase enterprise products, and these scaled down solutions usually fit the bill. If you can vet away the long term viability and security concerns from these ad-sponsored solutions, you might find yourself a hidden gem that plugs nicely into the puzzle of enterprise apps needed to run your infrastructure.
Have you had success with an ad-sponsored application in your production environment? I'd love to hear about it -- e-mail me at [email protected] or respond to this thread.