ColdFusion Should Have a Free Version

My biggest complaint about ColdFusion has always been that you can't get it for free. I can hear you taking a big breath to make all the standard arguments, so to save your breath, I'll quote some text from this Ben Forta blog post (10/01/03):

"Yes, we know that ColdFusion will save you money in the long run by reducing development and maintenance costs, and yes we know that ColdFusion is remarkably inexpensive taking into account all the included runtime services. We'll continue to make that argument, and will continue to meet some success depending on who it is we are talking to. There are some developers who can never be convinced, and that is fine, so long as there are some who can be. The truth is, there is no good free ColdFusion business model, and even if there were I am not sure that it would actually really change ColdFusion use and acceptance one way or the other at this point."

I don't know if Ben still believes those words, but I'll assume he does. Anyway, his argument is a good one, and it's basically the same one I've heard time and time again from other CF proponents (heck, I've made the arguments myself at times).

That said, it's extremely difficult to compete with free, and that's what we're up against with PHP, Perl and some of the others.

So I'd like to see Adobe release a free version of ColdFusion along side version 8. Here are 3 ways this could be done (ranked from easiest to most painful for Adobe):

  1. Release version 7 as an unsupported free version. This would allow Adobe to still make tons of money from version 8, while throwing a bone to the wallet challenged among us
  2. Release a free, unsupported, stripped down version 8 at the same time as the supported, full feature versions.
  3. Release version 8 with a full featured, free for personal use (and students, non-profits, etc.) edition. Sell the enterprise edition, where the only difference is support (and the license, of course).

What would Adobe gain? Millions of new developers, that's all! Right now ColdFusion doesn't even show up in most articles that discuss web development languages, like this one by Joel Spolsky. I believe that with the rapid application development that's already possible with ColdFusion, if the millions of budget crunched web developers out there could legally use ColdFusion for free, we'd see an explosion of new developers. And you know what? I'd put money on the expectation that many of these new developers would eventually bring more money into Adobe's coffers.

Because I don't want to fight about this in the comments, yes I do know that you can get BlueDragon, Railo, etc. for free. I love BlueDragon, in fact this blog runs on BlueDragon. But let's face it...if Adobe ColdFusion is already a weak language in the big scheme of things, what do BD and it's relatives matter? The alternative CFML engines ride the coat tails of ColdFusion. The outsiders don't know about BlueDragon.

And yes I do know that ColdFusion has a strong presence in US governments, but that's a very small market when compared to the public/private Internet in general.

Finally, yes, I do know you can get the developer version of CF for free, and host CF cheaply on the web (not as cheaply as PHP/Perl, mind you). But that solution is not always an option for larger projects that still have tight budgets. Not to mention, you can forget about dedicated servers if you don't own a copy of CF (or multiple copies if you need a lot of servers).

All that said, I don't believe that Adobe will give us a free version. Why not? Look up and down the Adobe/Macromedia product line. Adobe=expensive products, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon, regardless of all the other companies out there doing very well with cheap or free products in their lineup.

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I agree and deeply wish that Adobe would release a free version of CF. I think that this is the single most important thing Adobe could do to increase ColdFusion's popularity among web developers.

I would add that I don't really like option #3--I think that the free version should be free even for commercial use. That's the only way that it could truly compete with PHP and Ruby on Rails, etc. But I'm totally okay with fewer features and no support.
I agree, Richard. I think some kind of combination of #2 and #3 would be best, but letting /anybody/ do /any/ kind of site (as long as it's legal, of course) with the free version.
For the record ColdFusion _is_ incredibly cheap, in fact so cheap it's tarnished CF's reputation in the Enterprise application space. CF Ent = 6k, Oracle = 90k+, WebSphere 80k+, etc. (oracle and websphere are of course estimates because they dont have an upfront pricing model like cf)

Did you know that the verity engine (which comes built-in) actually retails for more than CF does? Those DataDirect drivers aren't cheap either. A fully compliant J2EE server under the hood. Flex 1.5 engine. At CFUnited they showed off the internal Breeze..err... Connect engine..... all included for next to nothing.

ColdFusion's popularity is quite fine. I'm not sure that releasing a free version is really going to help CF in the long run. For CF to be around for _another_ 10 years, it needs to continue to be a revenue source for Adobe.

Now, I'm not saying I don't agree that there should be a free version of CF -- just your reasoning.

I would like to see CF developers gain access to the VM applicance market ( For that to happen of course, we need a free version of CF. One of ColdFusion's biggest assets is it's awesome community. We have alot of great open source applications out there, but thier distribution is limited due to the cost of CF.
btw. there are other _free_ cfml compilers out there.....
You are on the mark. A couple comments.

1. It should be CF8 not 7, they could pull out Verity, Gateways, Flash forms. (Don't use any of this anyway :))
2. One big reason is that it would enable CF open source, there is not enough good O/S software as it costs money for anyone to use.
3. Comercially if you want to develop something, like Farcry CMS, you suffer from having to sell CF with every licence.

Being that it's now Adobe and PHP & .NET & .Java / JSP are the main competitors and are free, they might just bite the bullet and make Pro free and enterprise cost money. Adobe are good at IDE's so they could write a good IDE and sell this, Ala Flex model.
{deep breath}{pause}

Hang on... I've been frustrated at the lack of a free version too.

WHAT??!!?? I'm agreeing with the "wrong side" of a controversial issue?

No, not entirely. It's a risky business... offering CF for free is an experiment, whereas CF is currently a very profitable product for them. Any attempt at messing with the current, traditional model stands to lose them a great deal of money OR to blow the top off a market that's already suffering from too few hands to do the work... which could also reflect on the product in the "We were going to go with CF cuz it's free, but we couldn't find anyone to do the job."

I think a free version would be very convenient and would enable us to provide services to a few different kinds of clients that are now being targets mostly by PHP or even (gasp) CGI. It may even encourage all sorts of new developers to take up the product and start trying it... which leads us back to the point where lack of training and talent produce lots and lots of software that reflects poorly on the product.

I understand your desires, Jacob, and I agree with them, but I think it's far, far more complicated than "If only CF had a free version everything would be so much better." I'm content, actually, with using the pricing barrier to vet potential clients of the product who, by their investment, show that they have SOMETHING to lose by not getting it and something to gain by buying it (and therefore at least a baseline of commitment to the project).

I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle... your Panacaeic view of a free version being a huge boon to the product and my concerns that it would actually end up reflecting poorly on the product... in the end it's up to Adobe. Their concerns are valid and their drive to profit from their products is what keeps them solvent and me in business...
I think I forgot to say this:

I would never fail to take advantage of it if they did ever offer a free version, but I'm not in any hurry to get them to, either. I'm fairly confident that they're going to act in the best interests of the product, and if that eventually means providing a free version, then more power to them.

I'd also like to see a Service Provider version for hosting companies, and an ala-carte version where you are able to pay licensing based on the features you're actually going and can enable/disable them as you go and your subscription payment is adjusted as you make those changes. Rather like plugins to Plesk, where adding Miva costs you more but the pricing adjustments are built in.
I wish they would at least release a free, stripped down version that could be used as a replacement for JSP. Most Java developers loathe ColdFusion, yet when I've shown a few of them ColdFusion they eventually gave in and decided they liked it, but only if they could use it in JSP's place. With a lot of the Java space starting to look at faster solutions to problems which are maybe not best suited for Java, CF would be a tool they might take seriously since it's a essentially a J2EE container.

I'm not sure I agree that having a free version would cause more problems with needing CF people, I think it would help. I could be wrong, but I think that having a free version would bring tons of young kids to the CF world. If they have an interest in web development, but no money, right now their only options are the competition. Giving them a free option allows them to start learning and using CF, and eventually become an expert if they keep at it.

I really like your idea of having an ISP version, and the ala-carte options would also be awesome.
Woah woah woah.... since when was JSP free? JBoss is really the only 'free' J2EE server that has been adopted by Enterprise but they barely touch the install base of WebSphere and WebLogic. Which btw. cost more the 10x ColdFusion Enterprise! So what do I mean JBoss is 'free'. Well it's as free as RedHat is 'free'. It's free, unless you want support......

.NET on the other hands requires Windows 2003 Server (not free).

So really the only _free_ competitor is PHP. Who is at the bottom of the market share.

But yeah, I still want a free version for my open sourced VM applicance agenda.

An ISV / OEM version would be cool too.

Too late, I've lost my job and very much my ability to code CF since 2002 because of the burst of the bubble, and the CF Price Tag

Because $2000 is much in the U.S. but $2.000 is a lot more in the rest of the world.

Ecery CF dev I know, can only work in the US, here in Brasil, most of the people, doesn't even know what is CF since no one in the right mind will deploy on it
JSP has always been free. Although it's not a J2EE server, Apache Tomcat is very popular-- not everyone needs the full power (and heft) of J2EE. Apache Geronimo will eventually start making major strides into this market as well. You do not need a J2EE compliant Application Server to write web applications. Where I work we have an enterprise license for JBoss, though we still use Apache Tomcat in a lot of places too.

I beg to differ about PHP being a minor player. Even though I personally don't care for it, I'd be willing to wager the PHP market is larger than ColdFusion. There are more PHP jobs than ColdFusion at least, and seemingly a lot more apps on the web which are in PHP.

Here is an example of the number of PHP, ColdFusion, and JSP jobs head to head:
I have to disagree with Marcelo (two comments above) and a little bit with you.

I'm looking for a "free version" of CF too, but it would not "heal the wounds". My vision (*and I'm a CF programmer since oct-1996) is: the real, REAL problem here in Brasil is that CF isn't availabe to the "hosting" market for a reasonable price.

Why some newbie developer would join the ColdFusion pool if he doesn't have where to put his websites or applications? As far as I know, CF is free for developers, isn't it? Enterprise version, one IP plus "localhost", that doesn't fit? I can develop for free, if I have a host for a reasonable price, well, where is the problem?

My company almost only develop in ColdFusion. We have some two or four ASP and PHP applications but the majority are CF. We have our Standard license, a server at USA, and we host our clients there. We can't host another people's applications 'cause it's a standard CF, so we can't get our server protected AND provide hosting.

The support, the price, the "user-base", everything goes against CF here in Brasil when we talk about hosting. If Adobe starts some work directed to this market, I can bet the results will show up.

Best wishes!
Some of the 'old-timers' will remember that, some versions back, either Allaire or MM DID release a free, stripped down version of CF, for all the reasons mentioned above. As I recall, it was very poorly received and never generated much interest or usage. So they dropped it.
I think it is much too late to offer CF for free. Anyone that would have tried it is already convinced that either PHP or Ruby On Rails is the only solution for them. And anyway, those developers are by and large hobbyists at best (i.e., people who want to build apps quickly for mashups, personal productivity, to impress someone, etc). They are not Adobe's core audience of Enterprise or Professional Services developers that build apps that generate money! Look at the features (existing and forthcoming), the do nothing for the hobbyist that other's don't do for free.

My gripe about the no-free availability is that there are no options to scale the price of CF with your business. It's hard to justify plopping down $6K for an app that hasn't made a dime yet, but who wants to scale an app on a platform with no support? I know you get 30 days to play before you pay, but that's hardly enough to prove a concept. 90 would be more feasible. 180 would be ideal. In fact, I'd pay a penalty for the delayed licensing if it were an option or some sort of financing, which may or may not already exist.
Interesting discussion about Cold Fusion. I've dabbled in it briefly for work but never got into it, the lack of a free option to toy with was definitely a reason. Instead, I've gone with Apache+PHP.

I'm not here to start a flame war but have to point out that Igor's characterization of PHP/Ruby/Perl as somehow not Enterprise or Professional Services as extremely uninformed. That is, unless you consider Yahoo!, Flickr, and countless other's as "hobbyists" at best.
Oscar, there is a free option to toy with CF. It's called the developer edition (full featured, see above).

I don't mean to insult anyone, but I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of RoR and php apps do not start out as enterprise applications. Sure there are exceptions, but even Flickr was a hobby app until they realized they could make money off of it. Contrast that with just about every CF app which is built to either make money, or facilitate the making of money.