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Paid vs. Open Source Event Coordinator Software: Which Is Right for You?

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When I bought my first laptop right after I graduated high school, I didn’t have the money for many of the programs I wanted, such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office.

I needed them for all the writing and photo editing I enjoyed doing, but unfortunately those programs cost hundreds of dollars—and I wasn’t exactly swimming in money.

I was always computer savvy, so I started seeking out substitutes. That’s how I started down the road of using different open source software options, such as Apache OpenOffice and GIMP.

What is open source software?

In the simplest terms, open source software is software that gives its users access to its source code so they can use it as is, or make alterations and improvements. In most cases, open source software is free for anyone to download and use, however there are a few exceptions to the rule.

Open source software officially came into existence in 1983 when Richard Stallman launched the GNU Project. The idea was to build an operating system free from the standard restraints most companies put on the source code of their systems and software.

This project paved the road for GNU General Public License, which inspired the creation of free web browsers such as Netscape Communicator and Mozilla Firefox, and spawned the open source software movement.

When should event coordinators use open source software?

Not every event management firm needs proprietary event coordinator software and, in some cases, event management firms benefit more from using open source software. Here are three scenarios where you should consider open source event coordinator software:

1. You need to keep costs down

At Capterra, we live and breathe software, including paying close attention to the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining it. According to our research, the cost of event management software ranges anywhere from $20 to more than $200 per month on a subscription service. That’s not cheap.

On of the most obvious benefits of open source software is the lack of a price tag—this is especially beneficial for small event departments of larger companies or newly formed event management firms.

Related reading: “The Ultimate Guide on How to Start Your Event Planning Business

2. You want more control over customization

No two events are exactly alike, so why should your event coordination software remain static? The beauty of having access to software source code is the ability to change the program to reflect your needs. Traditional software vendors, on the other hand, usually offer a list of features that are the same for everyone, and they can only be customized by their development teams.

Are there extra fields in your event registration lists you need to account for? Want to overhaul your ticketing system? With open source software you can make these changes and more, provided someone on your team has the knowledge to make changes to the source code.

And, with open source software, not only do you have access to the source code, but so does every other person who’s downloaded it. This means other developers can fix issues and bugs with the program and offer their solutions on the software’s GitHub page.

3. You want to have the freedom to walk away

Vendor lock-in is like being in a relationship that is unsatisfying, but you can’t get out of it because you signed a contract. Open source software is free of contract agreements that lock you in for a set period of time, meaning you can drop the software at any time.

Not only are you free to walk away, but you can change the source code, giving you the opportunity to build the event management software you truly want. It’s like being in a relationship where you can tweak your significant other’s most detrimental flaws—and why would anyone want to leave a flexible relationship like that?

Open source event coordinator software recommendations

Here are the top five open source event management software options, according to our top free and open source list (options are listed in alphabetical order):

When should event coordinators use paid software instead?

As tempting as the free price tag may be, open source software won’t work for all event coordinators. If you’re on the fence, here are three scenarios where you should pass up free open source software for a paid option:

1. You don’t have the talent available to develop software

Not everyone knows how to write code, and as an event planner, this is not a bad thing. While we live in an increasingly technological world, the majority of tech that ends up in the hands of the average user already has a simple user interface. We don’t have to write out commands to prompt our technology to do things, since these capabilities are already programmed in.

One of the biggest selling points for open source software is the access to the source code, however this feature is useless to anyone who doesn’t know how to write in JavaScript, or any other coding language.

Paid software doesn’t give you access to their source code because they control their product from end to end, which frees up time for the user to focus on what they bought their software for. Most paid software vendors also offer support systems which deal with bugs and issues, so you don’t have to.

If your ticketing system is malfunctioning or your attendee signups aren’t registering, you just report it to the software vendor, so they can fix it for you.

2. You need better reliability

You get what you pay for, and sometimes not paying anything for open source software gives way to reliability issues. Unless an open source solution has a strong central management and developer community, it’s inevitable that you will experience bugs and glitches.

A contractual relationship with a paid software vendor is meant to give you assurances of reliability and support. These vendors have a direct incentive to provide a quality experience when they sell you event coordinator software, otherwise they risk losing you as a client.

This is not to say all open source software is unreliable, however the risk is considerably lower for paid options when their support and patches don’t rely on a community of outside developers to stumble upon and share them.

Related reading: “Why You Need to Test Your Event Management Software’s Tech Support Before Buying It

3. You need scalability

There is a reason I recommend free and open source mainly for small events teams and newly created event management firms: The smaller events and smaller clientele base means the needs of those planners are smaller, therefore scalability is not an immediate issue.

However, when it comes to corporate event coordinators and well-established event planning businesses, the demands on the tools they use are far greater: More attendees, more assets to manage, more vendors to juggle, and more data to store.

Unless you have a crack team of developers at your side to help scale the capabilities of an open source solution, a proprietary event coordinator option is easier to scale. Paid software vendors usually offer upgraded plans you can take advantage of as your needs increase (usually at an increased cost, though).

This cushion gives you the room to grow your event planning business without fear of outgrowing your software.

Paid event coordinator software recommendations

Here are the top five most popular proprietary event management software options according to our research (options are listed in order of popularity):

Related reading: “4 Corporate Event Planning Software Options Compared

Other technologies event coordinators should consider

Your event management software is the foundation of your event tech resources. It allows you to manage, market, and measure your events from start to finish, but what other resources are out there when you need more from your event technology?

The Capterra event management technology blog has lots of guides, trends pieces, and technology recommendations that will make your event experience more exciting and streamlined. Be sure to check out these other pieces if you enjoyed this post:

What do you think of using open source or paid event coordinator software? Which do you prefer and why? Let me know in the comment section below!

Looking for Event Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Event Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Nick Morpus

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Nick Morpus is a Content Writer for Capterra, a free resource that matches buyers and sellers of business software. He has a background in politics, economics, and journalism, which he dedicates his off-time to contributing his thoughts to other political sites. In his free-time he enjoys reading, drawing, photography, playing guitar, writing, and cooking.

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