We all want the newest, most powerful software at the cheapest price. But getting exactly what we want can be difficult. Sometimes just reading a review of software before we plunk down a wad of cash is not enough.

In a recent TechRepublic article, columnist Meredith Little explained that as an independent consultant, she must show proficiency with certain software before she can win a contract. However, buying expensive software before sealing a deal is not cost effective for her.

Instead, Little obtains free or inexpensive software through a variety of strategies, which she outlined in her column “Getting expensive software without buying it.”

It’s apparent from the posts left in the discussion about Little’s article that TechRepublic members have their own ways of saving money on software. This article recaps Little’s tactics and showcases what you told us in the discussion.

Software savings 101
From clever begging to downloading software demos, Little listed in her article several ways to find free software:

  • Download a product demo: Free product demos are often available from a company’s Web site or at Internet download sites.
  • Buy software books that include a trial version: Many instructional software books include demo versions. “Even if the book that has the CD doesn’t meet your needs, buying two books—one for the CD and another for the content—is still less expensive than buying the software,” Little said.
  • Attend seminars or training programs where software is distributed: You might find free software at shows where a representative from the company is speaking or teaching.
  • Volunteer to be a software beta tester: Beta testers receive free software and often insider information regarding the software.
  • Ask the software company for a trial version or a temporary license: Talk to a sales representative and ask if you can have an evaluation copy to entice a perspective client into buying the software.

Members suggest magazines
The IT Consultant community responded to Little’s column with their own ideas about obtaining free or low-cost software.

TechRepublic member Bert Steenhoefs said you can find almost complete versions of the latest software or a demo of a new version in magazines like PCPlus [UK]. Member R McIntosh suggested that a magazine or a technology journal may also send you new software if you offer to write a review for their publication. “You might have to do a sample write-up on a package you already own to prove your worth, but once you start reviewing, you will receive the full working versions of products,” R McIntosh said. To get your writing idea rolling, get in touch with a publication’s public relations firm or press contact.

Try these software download sites

There are many places on the Web to find downloads of entire software packages, partial products, or free trials and demos. Here are some links to get you started:


MaximumPC [UK]

CNET’s Download.com




Albert’s Ambry

Go online
The Internet and the World Wide Web are havens for downloads and free product demonstrations. Often, you can go straight to the source (like Microsoft‘s and IBM‘s sites, for example) and download either complete software packages for a price or get demos free.

Member james_sweeney said an online training simulation is a good way to familiarize yourself with a software product. “Many companies who offer online or Web-based training on these software titles include simulations of the software in their courses. That way, you can learn about it and try the exercises without actually buying anything other than the course,” he said. (Sweeney recommended contacting Sapphire Technologies for online training in XML or Java.)

Student discounts
Sifting through the sale bins at college and university bookstores is a good way to find the software you need at the price you want, according to some TechRepublic members.

Many higher-education institutions also offer discounts on software to enrolled students. If you’re enrolled in a post-secondary class either on your own or through your work, make sure to look for student-discounted software at a campus bookstore or computer lab. For example, TechRepublic member whyld found a copy of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver priced at $149 (without the HTML editor) for students at a local university.

Likewise, member wrlang recently bought Windows 2000 Pro and Windows ME for $25 each while registered as a student. However, to receive his discount, he registered to take university classes and was later purged from the university’s enrollment system when he didn’t show up for classes.

(We must say, however, that we don’t recommend that you try this tactic!)

Straight from Microsoft
TechRepublic member Kyot said the ultimate way to obtain cheap software is to know someone who works for the company. He said that Microsoft employees, for example, get a yearly allowance that they can spend on items at the Microsoft company store.

“Microsoft sells Office XP Developer at their company store for $80,” he said in his discussion post. According to Kyot, employee accounts are cleared and restarted yearly on July 1. “So, at the end of June, you can approach even casual acquaintances and beg for access to a part of their remaining quota without destroying their easy Christmas [shopping] planning,” Kyot said.

“But don’t wait until the 31st [of June], because the store shelves look like the software locusts have been through it,” Kyot advised.

If all else fails…
Don’t be afraid to go straight to a vendor and ask for a demo. All a vendor can say to you is “No.”

Sometimes it’s worth bargaining with vendors. Dynamicsystems advised that vendors are more open to a free or reduced price on a demo when you are willing to buy a copy for resale at the same time.

Little also said that vendors may offer you a temporary license on a product if they don’t offer trial versions.

Have other ideas?

Do you use software cost-cutting strategies that are not listed here? Let us know what they are and how they work for you. Send us an e-mail or start a discussion below.