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Say hello to freemium security software and services for business

February 8, 2011

By Steve Gold, technology and business journalist for over 20 years

If you’re looking for a freeware IT security application for your home PC, then you have a wide choice. But if you’re looking for a set of IT security apps for your office PC, the vendors would have you thinking you need to buy one of their suites.

A couple of years ago, this was – for most companies – the case, but over the last few years, a growing number of vendors have released freeware software for business users.

Last November, for example, Astaro, the ITsec appliance specialist, released Essential Firewall, which, according to Gert Hansen (the firm’s chief security architect), has two purposes.

The first purpose of Essential Firewall is to give potential pay-for customers a taste of the firm’s technology on a freeware basis, as Hansen has concluded that trialware doesn’t work well in the company marketplace, for the simple reason that firms are generally wary of replacing their existing security systems with new products.

“By offering a version of our software for free, we generate a higher profile in the industry, with the result that the IT manager says,  ‘ah yes, I know your product, I’ve used it at home,’  or is happy to try the software on a number of his or her PCs before committing to an appliance,” he explained.

The second reason, he went on to say, is that freeware applications have a much wider potential userbase than pay-for software, which gives vendors access to a far larger pool of users whose PCs feed data on the latest IT security threats to the company’s servers.

Phillipe Courtot, chairman of cloud security specialist Qualys, calls this data pool “cloud intelligence” and argues that it is a very precious commodity for IT security vendors.

That’s the reason, he says, why a growing number of companies – both inside and outside of the IT security arena – are moving to what he called the “freemium” business model.

Freemium – a hybrid of free and premium – is the model that Google has adopted with its Android operating system, which it licences on a wide scale to a growing number of smartphone and tablet computer vendors.

Although Android, as an operating system, is free to use, its 12 million lines of code are based loosely on Linux, and Google provides a number of developer services for which it charges a modest fee.

This freemium business model has, says Courtot – who is something of a cloud security evangelist – allowed Google to turn a modest profit, but more importantly, the operating system is already in active use on hundreds of millions of devices – and 300,000 new Android devices are being activated every day, according to Google.

As the freemium business model expands, Courtot predicts we will also see the development of user support models.

Instead of vendors’ providing expensive support for their free products, Courtot says freeware products will develop communities of users who work together to progress the development of freeware/freemium software and services.

And the trend is happening already. If you look at GiffGaff, the viral low-cost cellular service from O2, you’ll find a service that is supported wholly by its users, allowing the network to offer calls for 8p a minute and texts for 4p.

You’ve got to hand it Phillipe Courtot. He came up with the cloud business model for Qualys six years ago.

Now there’s genius!

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