AUSTIN, Texas—The concept of fun isn't usually what comes to mind when you think about help desk software. But then again, it is if you are talking about Spiceworks, and you are in Austin, where the unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird." Perhaps that explains why the most prominent object in the exhibition hall at the Austin Convention Center, where the SpiceWorld conference took place Sept. 23 and 24, was a giant orange Tyrannosaurus rex. Perhaps that also explains the prevalence of light sabers, superhero costumes complete with capes and adult beverages (lots of them) at the show.
But, of course, all of this could just as easily be explained by Spiceworks and the now legendary Spiceworks Community. Unlike other IT product companies, Spiceworks, which is based here, focuses on fun. Perhaps this makes sense for a software company that gives its products away for free. After all, losing sales is the least of its problems.
But at SpiceWorld, "Fun" is spelled with a capital "F." Attendees wear costumes like what you see at SF and comic book conventions. There is more swag than a mere mortal can easily carry. There are parties on top of parties every night of the conference. And the big bucks to pay for all of this comes from some other big names in the business. The sponsor list is full of names like Microsoft and HP. All of this for free software?
I pondered this when I first arrived at SpiceWorld and was waylaid by CEO Scott Abel, who wanted to make sure that I found my way to the first evening's soiree of bratwurst and craft beer, held in a place called "Bangers," which sells, well, sausages and beer. My transportation? A rickshaw. This is not your normal IT event.
But that just served to make clear that Spiceworks is not your normal IT products company. I didn't appreciate just how far from normal Spiceworks is until later, as I passed a food truck handing out free maple-bacon doughnuts. The exhibits at SpiceWorld, if they had a theme beyond general weirdness and the Zombie Apocalypse, usually involved bacon. There were bacon-scented T-shirts, bacon burgers for lunch and bacon in pretty much every list posted for about anything.
So how does the overwhelming theme of bacon, zombies and weirdness take you to help desk software? It turns out that one of Spiceworks' most popular products is its enterprise help desk product. Like everything else at Spiceworks, it's free, which helps explain why it's popular. But it takes more than just free to generate a 6-million-strong user base, and it takes more than free to generate the kind of rabid enthusiasm in the fan base. Let's face it, how many other IT conferences feature guys in tights?
The Spiceworks Help Desk is actually a well-developed and very useful application, regardless of its cost. But it has a problem in that it needs to run on a local PC, and that may not work well for every business. So the massed users in the Spiceworks Community suggested that maybe the time had come for the company to create a cloud-based version of the Help Desk.
So the company went with user demands and announced at the SpiceWorld keynote the hosted version of the Spiceworks Help Desk. The Hosted Help Desk will be available in a few days as a beta product. But unlike all other Spiceworks products, this one won't be free. To cover the cost of hosting the product, Spiceworks is going to actually charge money for using it.
How much money? Once the product release becomes final, it will cost $10 per IT professional per month. Yes, 10 bucks. That's less than you paid for lunch yesterday. But right now it's free, and while it's in beta, it seems to work fine. You can register for it right now.
For users of the existing Help Desk software, nothing will change. The Help Desk will still be there, and it will be exactly the same as the cloud version. For those not already running the Spiceworks Help Desk, you can download the free version now to see what it's all about. And yes, that version will remain free.
There's some talk at Spiceworks about offering other hosted versions of its software, and if the company does, the current thinking is that the cost of the cloud version of the software will be similar to what it's costing for the Hosted Help Desk.
The success of Spiceworks is obvious. While the company does not discuss its revenues, things seem to be going well. If it continues this way, then it's clear that Spiceworks has invented a new business model, and it's a model that will be good for the industry as well as for the company.