I just started looking for some wireframing software to help me design a better user experience for a project I’m working on. I immediately remembered Balsamiq after having only ever heard good things about it and so I navigated over to their website, watched the introductory video, and read up about the features. Then I saw the price: $80…a fairly steep price tag for a piece of software that I only just realised I needed and that I might not use very often, but the thing is, I’m convinced that it’s worth it. Why?
I’ll be honest here and say that I was once a user of pirated software, but became more begrudging of doing so as I began to understand the value of what I was using. My evolution as a computer user is probably a fair approximation of many people’s history with the device; a kid with a PC running whatever software it came with; a student with zero budget where the thought of laying out my own money on hardware was a big enough decision to make me not even think twice about using pirated software if I needed to; a PC user who had just started to earn a reasonable income; and now, a working professional dependent on using a computer on a daily basis.
This evolution has allowed me to come to the realisation that buying quality software is an absolute pleasure. My previous modus operandi when looking for software for a specific task was to spend several hours (or even days sometimes) researching what was out there only to find that most of what I had come across *gasp* costs money. This research would inevitably follow a familiar path, starting with me trying to find the best free version of something that sounded like it might meet my needs (which was almost never the case), and ending in frustration, where I eventually just give up and decide not to pursue whatever it was I had intended to do in the first place. All of this to avoid paying what sometimes turned out to be a trivial amount of money anyway (how often have you agonised over a decision to buy a piece of software that probably only cost the equivalent of a couple of beers and will most likely come in handy every day, only to not buy it and then blow far more than that on a night out).
This all started to change for me when I bought my first iPhone. It was my gateway drug to buying quality software. $1/2 dollar applications were easily discoverable (most as recommendations from current, happy users) and provided utility that far outweighed their cost. It was purchasing these apps that started to warm me to the idea of paying for quality, something that I inevitably do when purchasing just about anything else. The intangibility of software sometimes makes it hard to justify the price, but just stop and think for a minute how much time you spend using a computer. I’m a developer and so for me it’s the majority of my time almost every day. The higher the amount of time spent, the higher the cost is of not using quality software.
Switching to using a Mac turned out to be the next logical step on my journey to becoming a happy software purchaser. The software available for the Mac ecosystem is, in general, extremely well thought through and user-centric. Much of it is also lovingly crafted by indie software developers. The software I have bought so far has been a joy to use and I feel like a more productive computer user as a consequence, which is of vital importance to me. When you start using software that works with you and not against you, you start to experience a new kind of appreciation for software that accomplishes this.
The message of this post may be perceived as: “in order to buy quality software, you need to become some kind of Apple fanboy who jumps at the opportunity to throw money at a problem”. That is not my intention at all. Whichever platform you happen to be on, seek out the opinions of your peers, take heed of the recommendations made by influential members of whichever communities you happen to be involved in and follow your intuition when coming across an “expensive” piece of software that is loved by it’s users. Sometimes the best solution is free (yay open source) and that’s great, but sometimes it isn’t. If that is the case, don’t feel rushed into making a purchase, mull it over for a while and figure out in your own time whether you really need that piece of software, and when you realise that you do, buy it!