Free not such a bad description of software, CIOs say

76% of CIOs surveyed say they use free software at the enterprise level

Free is becoming a popular form of software for CIOs, with nearly two-thirds of companies using it on their desktops and with applications, according to a new survey.

The survey, sponsored by U.K. firm Global Graphics which develops electronic document and printing software, found that 76% of CIOs surveyed say they use free software at the enterprise level and 88% said they have free software deployed at the department level.

The survey, conducted by U.K. researched-based marketing firm Vanson Bourne, polled 400 CIOs in the U.K. and U.S with 1,000-3,000 end-users. The survey makes a distinction between free software and open source software, although it does not rule out free versions of commercial applications – a popular open source model.

The free software most used is what many would expect with Adobe Reader, Flash and QuickTime at the top of the list. But the lineup also includes Java, OpenOffice, Google Docs, Skype and Windows Defender. And usage patterns are not constrained to a few tools here and there. The survey showed that 54 % of large organizations use more than 10 free software products, and that 84% use six or more.

However, CIOs are not seduced by the "free" tag and the survey indicates that the risk of deploying such software is given a thorough assessment. More than 80% say they use the same evaluation and testing for free software as they do for paid software. In addition, 68% said their overriding concern focused on product quality. Other issues cited included product support, hidden costs, potential intellectual property issues, and stability of the vendor.

The survey found that free software is most prevalent on corporate desktops. More than 80% of respondents say they have free software running there, while 78% said they use it at the application level. Just 35% said they were using it within their data centers. More than 20% said they are using free software-as-a-service tools in the enterprise.

"One thing that was surprising was the openness of CIOs admitting that their enterprises are using free software across the enterprise," said Gary Fry, CEO of Global Graphics, which offers

Not surprisingly, 65% of those using free software say their budgets are tight and likely to get tighter this year. Among respondents, half said they are planning enterprise-level implementations of free software this year.

In terms of cost savings, 81% of CIOs said one of the key benefits of free software is reducing licensing expenses, along with standardization (59%), reduction in desktop management (52%), and easier software management (36%).

Survey respondents also indicated the type of free software they were most comfortable using with 39% saying open source provides and 34% commercial vendors with a free version that is a subset of licensed software.

As CIOs look closer at free software and begin to deploy it, they are also changing the relationship with the vendors of that technology be asking for more technical and product support to back corporate roll-outs.

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