Software companies, especially young startups, are always in a development race – by definition, they are trying to maximize achievements and minimize their burn rate. That means development teams naturally face an internal tug-of-war. On one hand, they seek to use the newest dev tools that the market can 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 since they need to save every penny. With the current economic climate, many new investments are being delayed or, at minimum, double-checked.
To appeal to developers, many vendors and software development tool companies offer freemium programs. Some are driven by the spirit and the goodwill of open source and community; others are business-to-developer (B2D) companies relying on the product-led growth (PLG) mode. If developers see value in the free tools, they are more likely to become paying customers later on to get access to more features.
Here, we’ll review the common parameters of popular free developer tools and distinguish their services between the free tier (aka the community tier), the entry-level paid tier and other paid program offerings. We’ll look at tools for observability, logging, vulnerability scanning, compliance, authentication and VPNs.
1. Volume Threshold
Logs are considered to be one of the three pillars of observability and are the bread and butter of troubleshooting and debugging. The more code lines you have in your product, the more loglines you collect, store and aggregate. Logs accumulation can quickly get out of hand and become very heavy on the budget. One logs aggregation vendor, Sumologic, provides a freemium offer that allows log collection up to one gigabyte per day. If you need more volume, you can move to their paid tier that allows for higher volumes or pay more for no limits at all.
2. Transactions Threshold
Transactions and tests are probably the most imperative features of a freemium offer. It involves the core offering with a quantity limitation, giving you a chance to try the product through practical use, but you’ll probably have to move up quickly into the first paid tier. Snyk.io, for example, will help you scan your open source software for flaws alongside container vulnerabilities as early as code creation, with up to 200 open source tests and 100 container tests per month.
3. Certified: Security and Compliance
It’s one thing to play with, say, a free AutoCAD seat that doesn’t involve sensitive data and another thing entirely to draft the next-generation design that must not leak to your competitors. Security and compliance certification is often included in the freemium tiers; more detailed reports and analysis of security and compliance are for the paying tiers only.
4. Availability and SLA Support
Having a free tool is great–but if this tool is bound to a proprietary service, then you should probably demand these tools meet the same standards and SLAs that you are offering your customers. Observability platform Rookout offers 24/7 support and dedicated account managers and tools for enterprise customers in all tiers.
5. Legal Aspects
One key aspect of free tiers is the legal aspect of using the tool. The dev tool may interact with sensitive data, not only in your own dev environment but also with your customers’ environments. Your customers may require your dev operations to meet specific criteria, making the free tier a potential legal issue. For example, if you use the free tier of JFrog to manage your supply chain, you won’t be able to use Artifactory to publish data to third parties; should you want to do that, you will have to move to one of the paid commercial programs.
6. Usage Threshold
Some free tools operate based on a usage model—you are entitled to a free tier until a certain amount of users or actions is reached. Auth0, for example, a user authentication solution (now part of Okta), provides their service free of charge for up to 7,000 users (generous!) but should you grow beyond that, you’ll need to graduate to a paid tier and be charged according to your monthly usage.
7. Speed Threshold
Some free and freemium offerings are tempered based on connectivity speed, bandwidth and even VPN. Today, you can even get a secure VPN for free, but only to a specific threshold. For example, ProtonVPN will provide you with a free VPN at a medium speed, if you move to the highest speed VPN, you’ll need to move to a paid tier.
In most cases, the freemium tier will limit a dev tool’s usage according to one or a few main characteristics but will allow you to perform the basic actions and enjoy the essence of the tool. Some parameters may be trivial, like volume of tests, while others require developers and DevOps teams to carefully monitor usage. There’s a lot of value in free and freemium dev tools—but make sure you read the fine print.