UK's big firms to use more free software in 2010

Free software try it now download button

Big companies are increasingly looking at free alternatives to costly software suites in a bid to keep costs down, a new survey has shown.

Around 76 per cent of chief information officers (CIOs) questioned by software company Global Graphics said their firms already use free software at organisational level, and 88 per cent did so at departmental level. Some 35 per cent used free software within the data centre.

The Global Graphics survey spoke to around 400 CIOs from large companies having at least 1,000 employees, 300 of them in the US and 100 in the UK.

And despite widespread talk of economic recovery, it's unlikely to trickle down into CIOs' budgets until at least next year, as two thirds of those questioned said that their budgets this year had either been frozen or cut.

With that in mind, it's little surprise to hear 51 per cent admitting they would be increasing their use of free software across their networks in 2010.

Most at risk appears to be Adobe Acrobat, with 38 per cent of those questioned saying they planned to move to a free alternative, while one in four said Microsoft Office would be getting the chop this year.

The survey did distinguish between free and open source software, but judged cut-down free versions of commercial software in the free camp. And with that in mind, Global Graphics chief executive Gary Fry cautioned against reading too much into the figures, especially given the high percentages of companies already using free solutions.

"Free software is a critical part of large organisations' IT strategies," he said. "Large organisations are perfectly prepared to use free software where possible, and upgrade to a full paid-for version of the product where it makes sense for them."

Adobe Reader is the most popular free program among CIOs, with 78 per cent of respondents using it at enterprise or departmental level. Java Runtime Environment and Adobe Flash Player are the next most common, followed by QuickTime, OpenOffice, GoogleDocs, Skype and Microsoft Save as PDF.

Fry argued that companies needed to find the right balance between affordability on the one hand, and reliability and safety on the other.

"Things like Flash, Java and Adobe Reader are good, trusted bits of software and come from a reliable source," Fry commented. "Where there are dangers are with less known free providers. If you go on sites like Tucows there are applications added on a daily basis and for individual users that's fine, but companies need to be a lot more diligent."

However, it's a warning that doesn't seem to be falling on deaf ears: more than four in five CIOs said they used the same evaluation methods for testing free software as they did for paid-for applications.

And, despite more restrictive budgets clearly playing a part, the CIOs questioned revealed that their main reason for using free software wasn't in fact to save money, but rather to complement existing desktop software and provide a solution to individual user needs where paid-for software would be impractical.