Feature: Ad-supported software

Summary:How feasible is it that you could escape paying hefty licensing fees by using software subsidised by advertisements?

But will SMEs buy it?
Ultimately, these business requirements, which most vendors see as getting as much software as possible for as little money as possible, may push many SMBs to accept advertising as a trade-off for access to emerging Web 2.0 services.

Many small businesses already rely on Google Spreadsheets, for example, if only because it facilitates collaboration by allowing many users to work on a spreadsheet simultaneously.

Still others are embracing advertising-support software like SpiceWorks, which claims more than 400,000 users of its network management platform. Such capabilities are well out of reach for SMBs who struggle to justify the cost of commercial network management products from the likes of HP, BMC and CA.

Yet there are issues for SMBs to consider before they accept ads with their business applications. Ads create a significant unknown in the workplace with employee time-wasting, management overhead and security risks including the potential insertion of malicious code or deceptive ads designed to trick employees into revealing sensitive passwords and other information.

Then there's the more substantial risk of corporate information being compromised by the same behaviour-monitoring, ad-personalisation code that gave adware such a bad name.

Of course, companies are already managing such risks when their employees surf conventional websites, so building ads into online corporate applications wouldn't be a big step in that respect. It would also, Sanchez points out, help SMBs sidestep many of the dangers of piracy, since cost-sensitive businesses would no longer feel the need to risk fines and security issues by using illegitimate software.

Indications are that some customers are warming to the possibility: one survey last year, by McKinsey & Co. and Sand Hill Group, found that fully one-third of 475 surveyed IT and business executives were planning to be using ad-funded software by 2009.

Ultimately, experimentation and evaluation will lead SMBs to decide whether ads on their employees' desktops are a fair compromise for lowering the barriers to entry for Web 2.0 applications.

Conventional software licensing certainly continues to be the favoured approach, but with so much online advertising up for grabs it's likely that the market will see more advertising trials in the future, particularly as businesses really start embracing the possibilities of Web 2.0 for their businesses.

"Users are seeing value in these collaboration and communication features, and they're wondering why they don't have those capabilities in their business applications," says Google's Noble.

"It's good for businesses to be able to take advantage of the same things that are available for free on the internet, and there are going to be early mover advantages for businesses that do. If you're not looking to move business applications to the cloud, increasingly you will be saddled with inefficiencies and costs."

Topics: Google, Enterprise Software


As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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