Free development tools! But what’s the catch?


Software companies, especially young startups, are always in a development race – by definition, they try to maximize achievements and minimize their burn rate. This means that the development teams are naturally faced with an internal showdown. On the one hand, they seek to use the latest development tools the market has to offer, targeting their applications to become better (more secure, more efficient and compliant with the latest standards). On the other hand, they cannot spend money on such tools because they have to save every penny. With the current economic climate, many new investments are being delayed or, at a minimum, rechecked.

To attract developers, many software development tool vendors and companies offer freemium programs. Some are driven by the spirit and goodwill of open source and the community; others are business-to-developer (B2D) businesses that rely on the product-driven growth (PLG) mode. If developers see the value in free tools, they are more likely to become paying customers later to gain access to more features.

Here we will review common parameters of popular free developer tools and distinguish their services between free tier (i.e. community tier), entry-level paid tier, and other program offerings paying. We’ll look at tools for observability, logging, vulnerability scanning, compliance, authentication, and VPN.

1. Volume Threshold

Logs are considered one of the three pillars of observability and are the bread and butter of troubleshooting and debugging. The more lines of code you have in your product, the more connection lines you collect, store, and aggregate. The accumulation of logs can quickly spiral out of control and become very taxing on the budget. A log aggregation provider, sumological, provides a freemium offering that allows for log collection of up to one gigabyte per day. If you need more volume, you can upgrade to their paid tier which allows higher volumes or pay more without any limits.

2. Transaction Threshold

Transactions and testing are probably the most imperative features of a freemium offering. This involves the basic offer with a quantity limitation, giving you a chance to try the product through hands-on use, but you’ll probably need to quickly upgrade to the first paid tier. Snyk.iofor example, will help you scan your open source software for flaws as well as container vulnerabilities right from the inception of the code, with up to 200 open source tests and 100 container tests per month.

3. Certified: Security and Compliance

It’s one thing to mess with, say, a free AutoCAD seat that doesn’t involve sensitive data and another thing to draft the next-gen design that doesn’t have to leak to your competitors. Security and compliance certification is often included in freemium tiers; more detailed reporting and analysis of security and compliance is reserved for paid tiers.

4. Availability and Support SLA

Having a free tool is great, but if that tool ties into a proprietary service, you should probably require those tools to meet the same standards and SLAs that you offer your customers. Observability platform Rookout offers 24/7 support, as well as dedicated account managers and tools for enterprise customers at all levels.

5. Legal aspects

A key aspect of the free tiers is the legal aspect of using the tool. The development tool can interact with sensitive data, not only in your own development environment, but also with your customers’ environments. Your customers may require your development operations to meet specific criteria, which makes the free tier a potential legal issue. For example, if you are using the free tier of JFrog to manage your supply chain, you may not use Artifactory to publish data to third parties; If you wish to do so, you will need to upgrade to one of the paid commercial programs.

6. Usage threshold

Some free tools work on a usage model: you are entitled to a free tier until a certain number of users or actions are reached. Auth0for example, a user authentication solution (now part of Okta), provides their service for free up to 7,000 users (generous!) but if you go over that, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid tier and be charged according to your monthly consumption.

7. Speed ​​threshold

Some free and freemium offers are tempered by connectivity speed, bandwidth, and even VPN. Today, you can even get a secure VPN for free, but only up to a certain threshold. For instance, ProtonVPN will provide you with a free VPN at medium speed, if you upgrade to the highest speed VPN, you will need to upgrade to a paid tier.

In most cases, the freemium level will limit the use of a development tool based on one or a few main features, but will allow you to perform the basic actions and enjoy the essence of the tool. Some settings might be trivial, like test volume, while others require developers and DevOps teams to carefully monitor usage. Free and freemium developer tools are a lot of value, but be sure to read the fine print.


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