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How to find the free version of apps

By Justin Pot · May 7, 2021

It's not just you: finding the free versions of software is getting harder and harder. Companies are starting to hide them. 

To be clear, paying for software is good. If we're ever going to live on an internet that's not a surveillance nightmare, we need people to pay for things. The alternative is ads that track you constantly and generally make it harder to do anything online. Pay for software, if you can. 

With that out of the way: sometimes you know a free version of an app exists and that it does everything you need, but you just can't find it. This guide is for those situations. I write a lot of "best apps" lists for Zapier, so I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how much apps cost and whether they offer a free version. Here's my best advice for finding the free versions of apps. 

Actually read things

It's with a heavy heart that I inform you of this first trick: actually reading things.

I know. Sorry. 

For example, this homepage has a big blue button for signing up, but that button signs you up for a free trial of a paid product. 

A big blue button on the Dropbox homepage

It's understandable that you might click this button before reading anything—it's big, blue, and generally enticing. But if you actually read things, instead of just clicking the most satisfying button, you can find the free version as a boring old text link below the button. 

This is done intentionally. Designers know most people will click the button without reading things, so pages are built to steer people toward a company's agenda. This is basically how the internet works at this point. All that aside, the easiest way to find the free version in most cases is to read the actual website you're looking at. 

Again, sorry. I don't want to read things either.

Check the pricing page

Most apps catering primarily to businesses won't go out of their way to mention the free version on their homepage or most of their marketing materials. They typically prefer to drive people to a trial of the paid offering because that's a good way to make money. It's not nefarious—it's just business. 

In those cases, where the free version isn't even mentioned, I recommend seeking out the pricing page. If a free version exists, it's usually listed there. 

Trello's pricing page

This is also the best place to find out which features are and are not offered by the free version—there's almost always a breakdown on this page. 

Look for the consumer version

Many apps are aiming for two different markets: consumers and businesses. The marketing and pricing pages typically focus on the business version because businesses are far more likely to pay for things than the average home user. If you're looking for the free version of something, though, you should be looking for the consumer pricing. 

Box, for example, doesn't list their free version on the pricing page—until you click the greyed out Individuals Plans button. 

Showing the Individual Plans tab on the Box pricing page

Do that, and the free version is offered immediately. 

Showing the free version of Box

Some services also do this on their homepage, showing the marketing and pricing targeting the business market by default and the information for personal accounts on another, secondary page. If you're an individual user, you should look for the consumer offering, which is typically hidden behind links with words like "Individual," "Personal," or "Home." 

Note that, if you're using these apps for your business, you should not use the free personal versions. That's not what they're for. Be cool. 

If all else fails, search

Can't find a free version you swore used to exist? Sometimes companies don't mention them on any site you can navigate to from the homepage—but the offering still exists. 

That's why, if none of the above tips work, I recommend using your search engine of choice. Type "free version" alongside the name of whatever app you're researching. In some cases, you'll find a landing page with information about the free version. In other cases, you'll find a news article about the app shutting down its free version. Either way, you have an answer. 

You shouldn't expect everything to be free—making software costs money. That doesn't mean you should feel bad about taking advantage of free versions, even if they're a little hard to find. 

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