Does Free Lead to Buy?

imageA fairly common practice for software providers is to provide older versions of their software for free as a taster to encourage you to go on and purchase the latest versions. This applies equally to online apps as it does to desktop – the delivery mechanism is different but the principal is the same.  But does it work?

Reading a story on the web recently I was reacquainted with the Softmaker products which are equivalents of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The story pointed out that Softmaker were offering a copy of their previous version of TextMaker and PlanMaker for free so I duly went off and downloaded a copy.

The first thing I did was to run a test to see how well TextMaker handled a Word document I have with complex paragraph numbering. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked perfectly, something that didn’t work in OpenOffice. What’s more I could also save a copy on my USB drive and take the apps with me wherever – the total directory size was a compact 36mb. Compare this to OpenOffice 3.0 which takes 286mb. This smaller size  makes SoftMaker ideal for use on my Netbook where disk space is limited.

Next arrived the inevitable email offering me the opportunity to upgrade to the latest version which also included Presentation for an attractive price of 22EUR reduced from 70EUR. That’s about £19 for a full office suite so I was tempted and out came the credit card.

The footprint of the new version has pretty much doubled to 68mb. This is mainly due to the addition of the Presentations application, but the total size can be reduced further by dumping the PDF manuals and some of the templates. It is still a very small footprint again ideal for the mobile traveller. Memory usage is light too.

So, to answer the original question, free can lead to buy and pretty quickly in my case. Thinking back I have also bought product as a result of older versions on cover mount CDs, Paint Shop Pro for example, and after using the free version of the web application Draw Anywhere. So as a business model it definitely does work but the ratio of freebies to paid, in my case, is still very firmly in the former camp.