Some time ago we ran a review of Talend Open Studio, the Open Source incarnation of Talend's ETL and data migration tool.

Althoughy I didn't write the review, it said a lot of things that I'd have said as I liked it a lot. The editor then asked me to have a look at the commercial offering, with a view to perhaps giving that some coverage too.

It's pretty clear that the extra goodies you get with the commercial product are well worth having; basically they make the difference between a single-user, stand-alone package and a fully integrated commercial ETL system with group working, in-built job scheduling, CPU balancing and such like.

Yet when I got chatting to the Ed about it, I found myself wondering just how many people would bother with the commercial offering. Yes, the commercial offering's an excellent package, but the Open Source is also very good. Would the average SME go for the commercial version? I can't help thinking not.

The dilemma of "to pay or not to pay" is not, of course, unique to Talend. In fact I can think of at least one application that's ubiquitous in its market, yet of the dozens of people I know who use it, not one has chosen to go for the paid-for version. I write, of course, of that famous remote control application, VNC.

The problem for the software writers is hitting the right level at which you have to start paying for things. For instance, I paid a few tens of pounds for an excellent Windows equivalent of the "grep" file search tool, simply because I got fed up of the "If you pay a few quid, you won't see this annoying dialog every time you quit" pop-up in the free version. I'm also likely to shell out a similar amount for the Enterprise version of SQLYog (a GUI query manager for MySQL) because they've made it AnnoyingDialogWare in the latest version.

But when you're talking about a few hundred, rather than a few tens, of pounds, life is different - the users put up with the irritations, and they find workarounds for the limitations (even if the hidden cost of the time and effort spent doing so exceeds the real cost of just paying for the darned thing). So the vendors hit a paradox: do they cripple the free version to make it only semi-usable (thus peeing off 80% of their users)? Do they do away with it completely? Or do they stick with it and hope that people will decide it's worth it?

In the case of Talend, they should stick with it. Their pricing is around that area where any sensible company that's big enough to need the extras in the paid-for version will realise that paying for it's cheaper than farting about trying to work around the free version's limitations.