Software // Information Management
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4/20/2009
12:54 PM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Free MicroStrategy 9: Can You Believe It?

When MicroStrategy first floated the idea of a free version of its software several months ago, my gut reaction was not positive. I kept looking for the catch... So far, I can't find the catch. Given the product's capabilities, migration path, and support, it seems like a deal too good to be true...

When MicroStrategy first floated the idea of a free version of its software several months ago, my gut reaction was not positive. I kept looking for the catch. I also was imagining the inevitable competitive FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that ensues in a cut throat market place. "The product is so weak, so hard, so niche, they have to give it away."

So far, I can't find the catch. Given the product capabilities, migration path, and support, it seems like a deal too good to be true.Other vendors have touted products as "free" with mixed degrees of success. Oracle has sometimes included Discoverer and Reports (now called the "standard edition") for free with the RDBMS; the newest OBI Enterprise Edition, however, is not free and is notably more robust. Microsoft BI is often considered to be "free," assuming you've bought SQL Server and SharePoint. I would counter, then, that those products are low-priced but not free. Clearly, Microsoft has had a successful seeding strategy that explains the rapid adoption of Analysis Services (for OLAP) and Reporting Services (for production reporting).

Open source BI is also "free," but it lacks support and maintenance unless you pay. It's also not yet clear that open-source capabilites compare to those available in commercial software. (Look for some upcoming BI Scorecard evaluations that should answer that question.)

The free version of MicroStrategy, called Reporting Suite, is for up to 100 users and includes online support and training. Some of the more attractive products, like the dashboards and the new in-memory option, are not included for all users in this starter bundle. But the appealing aspect to this deal is that it provides customers with an easy entree into BI, without that software being a total throw away. If customers later want to add dashboards or multi-source, for example, they don't have to start over or migrate to a new product as is often the case with many departmental BI tools.

BI licensing is only one part of BI's total cost of ownership (TCO). Although it is usually the smallest piece in TCO, it is an out-of-pocket expense that companies would like to minimize in the economic downturn. MicroStrategy's Reporting Suite saves that expense.

A valid concern with this deal is that MicroStrategy might make up for the "free" by overcharging later, when customers are hooked and want to add options. Indeed, MicroStrategy has alienated customers in the past with its aggressive, sometimes inflexible, pricing tactics. But over the last two to three years, the company seems to have recognized that those tactics back fired, and it has modified its pricing accordingly.

The BI landscape is also significantly different from that of three years ago; the vendor knows it has to be more creative about even getting invited to a BI selection when usually one of the big 4 vendors already has a relationship.

This latest move seems like an attractive option for both departments and smaller businesses with limited BI budgets. For companies that know their BI deployment will evolve into something bigger, I recommend continuing to follow a BI selection process (see this report for a methodology). As part of that process, compare the full range of capabilities and the total cost for your requirements, regardless if you start out with a free version.

So with this deal, it seems good as well as true. But of course, let me know if you find whatever catch I'm overlooking.

Regards, Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardWhen MicroStrategy first floated the idea of a free version of its software several months ago, my gut reaction was not positive. I kept looking for the catch... So far, I can't find the catch. Given the product's capabilities, migration path, and support, it seems like a deal too good to be true...

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