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Insights | From a different perspective | Test Management Tools
4 December, 2017

What is the true cost of free testing tools?

One of your technical testers walks into your office.

“Look, I know that you’re thinking about how we’ve going to test our mobile app, and I have a suggestion…..

“I’ve found an amazing freeware testing tool that is almost perfect for the job.”

You smile, because you can see how eager he is to take on a new challenge and use a new tool. (You know techies….)

But before you can tell him you’re not sure if this is a good idea, he quickly adds: “It will save the company a lot of money. Potentially tens of thousands.”

You stop.

The pressure to do more with less is still relentless. You know that if you try to make the business case for a paid testing tool, your Finance Director will put you through the third degree. You will have to build a careful business case, and spend time defending the spend.

It doesn’t really appeal. And frankly, you’d much rather be the hero who saves the company money.

You ask your technical tester to show you the free tool….

I’ve seen versions of this scenario unfold many times.

But if freeware is a temptation for you, ask yourself this: Are you really doing your company a favour by using free testing tools? Or, despite the best of intentions, are you unwittingly damaging its long-term future?

Because while your company is inevitably concerned about saving money, it has other interests to consider as well.

Ultimately, choosing the right testing tools is a business decision. Your first priority should be to consider how your tools serve the wider needs of your business.

So if your company has grown to the size where you need to use professional systems, tools and ways of working, the disadvantages of free software testing tools frequently outweigh the advantages.

There is a very old saying, “You get what you pay for”.

Let’s look at this step by step.

Free Tools – Not Built To Last

Make no mistake, there are some good free tools out there, with two big advantages. There is, by definition, no cost (or a low cost). Free tools also often do one thing well, for example testing browser-based applications.

But there are many disadvantages too:

  • No/low cost can often be misleading. There are often many hidden costs businesses fail to account for, such as buggy software, the tools not doing quite what you need and the lack of people experienced with the tool.
  • Are they future-proofed? Since the people who built the tool are not always still around, you may need to be able to fix bugs in-house. Similarly, they may not upgrade it as technology advancesOr those “enhancements” the technical tester did will not work with the new version, risking the test assets you have already created.

Oh, and the technical tester who was so eager to work on this freeware tool? When he leaves, the knowledge of the tool leaves with him… 

  • They are often unsuitable to test a range of applications. I said earlier that free tools often do one thing well, but this can be a disadvantage if you have a portfolio of applications to test. 
  • They may not scale. Some performance testing tools fail to scale reliably beyond 100 or few 100 users without skewing the test results, making them rarely relevant for medium or large performance tests.

As a consequence, free tools are best for small, one-off projects where the tool will not have to be used or maintained for long, and where you can afford for things to go wrong because they are not mission-critical.

If the software you are testing is business-critical, involving selling to or serving customers, you need the reliability and support that comes with a paid tool. You cannot cut corners with revenue generation.

So why do companies sometimes willingly use freeware over the long-term?

In my experience, initially it is more likely to be small companies and start-ups whose budgets may force their hand, or where the culture is focused on getting the job done and not necessarily on building something to last. 

That may be essential in a start-up, but as your business moves forward and needs to consolidate and build a strategic platform to grow, it will hold you back. 

At that point, it’s time to look at testing tools strategically and this is likely to mean to start paying….

Paid Tools Help Your Business Function Smoothly 

Once your business hits a certain level of maturity, your cost concerns are unlikely to disappear. However, you start becoming equally concerned with building a business that runs smoothly, that has the capabilities it needs to thrive long-term and which has operational advantages.

In the context of buying software testing tools, business at this stage will start asking themselves questions like:

  • Do I have confidence in the company that provides the tools and supports them?
  • Will the tool continue to be invested in and developed, so that our investment is safe?
  • Does the tool support the majority of our needs? Avoid customising tools, as this takes your team away from their day job.
  • Can it help us with the entire range of applications we have to test?
  • Will it meet our long-term needs?
  • Do they scale?
  • Can we share our test tools with global teams?
  • Does the tool pass security audit tests?
  • Will the tool give us predictable and repeatable results, for every new release?
  • Is there a ready pool of talented people who know the tools

They will only invest if the answer to these questions is “Yes”, and that inevitably means paid tools.

The bottom line is that you are in safe hands. For companies taking a long-term view of what their business needs to move forward and function efficiently, this is worth its weight in gold.

Corporates use best-of-breed paid testing tools because they give them advantages. Medium-sized organisations sometimes hesitate, with cost drowning out every other consideration.

But if that applies to you, do not wait until you are an large corporate to use the same high-standard tools that corporates take for granted.

You should want the same standards and the same advantages while you are growing. In fact, using the best tools will help you grow faster, more easily and set you up with the infrastructure for long-term success.

If you do lots of testing, paid tools are an investment in your future, not a cost. Start using them as soon as your budget allows.

And when your technical tester walks into your office, beaming about a free tool they’ve found, hear them out – then send them on their way….

The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded.

Stephen Davis
by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is the founder of Calleo Software, a OpenText (formerly Micro Focus) Gold Partner. His passion is to help test professionals improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing.

To view Stephen's LinkedIn profile and connect 

Stephen Davis LinkedIn profile

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