A decade ago, commercial software vendors would claim that their products were cheaper than open source alternatives when you considered the total cost of ownership. Free software was free to obtain, but difficult to install, configure, maintain, and support.
A lot has changed in the last decade. Open source software has improved a great deal. It would be interesting to revisit the debate over total cost of ownership. Software vendors are right to point out the indirect costs of free software. But there are indirect costs to commercial software too: transaction costs of purchasing the software, upgrades, maintenance agreements, license management, etc.
Suppose you want to buy WinZip. It’s a mature and inexpensive piece of software, selling for $29.95. What will it cost you and your company to buy it? Obviously at least $29.95. But how much paperwork will you have to fill out? How long will it take someone to process your order? How long will you have to wait? If you have a desktop and laptop computer, will you be licensed for both? Can you install it at home? At minimum you’ll have to read enough fine print to find out. Now suppose you get a new PC. Did you remember to save your WinZip installer before they took away your old PC? Do you have your license key? The more you think about it, the better the free alternative 7-zip looks.