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ColdFusion: worth the cost!

Kay Smoljak

Judging by many of the comments on my previous post, the licensing cost of ColdFusion is a major issue for many people, given the many free and open source alternatives. This is not a new concern – developers have been asking “is it worth paying for?” for as long as ColdFusion has been around. Fellow SitePoint blogger Eric Jones wrote an article way back in June 2004 and addressed this very issue (among others) in Making the Case for ColdFusion. Fast forward to 2008, and it seems that people are still asking.

But first, just how much does ColdFusion actually cost?

A Standard Edition license – designed for delivering multiple applications or sites on a single server – will cost, on average, US $1,299. Up the other end of the scale, an Enterprise Edition license – for multiple servers or plugging into existing J2EE installations – can be purchased for US $7,499. The Enterprise Edition has some extra features not found in the Standard Edition that are mostly of interest, as the name suggests, to developers working in an enterprise-level environment, as well as an expanded range of supported platforms and databases.

An important item to note is that a completely free developer’s edition of ColdFusion has always been available. This version mimics the Enterprise Edition in functionality, but limits access to localhost and two external IP addresses. This makes it ideal for local use for individual developers and small teams.

For smaller projects, shared hosting is available, starting from under US $10 per month according to the listing of ColdFusion hosts on Ben Forta’s site. As with all hosting, you get what you pay for, and in most cases hosts at the more expensive end of the scale will be more reliable, secure and feature-laden.

So, development is free, but that aside, deployment costs are not insignificant. Yet ColdFusion is more popular than ever. There is something – actually, several ‘somethings’ – about the language that keeps developers coming back.

1. Speed of development
ColdFusion really puts the “rapid” in Rapid Application Development. Ask any CF developer and most likely they will tell you that they can write code to interact with databases, LDAP directories, email servers etc in far fewer lines of code than other languages. Fewer lines of code means faster development and deployment, and in an industry where hourly consulting rates are the norm, that translates into lower costs, offsetting the cost of the server itself.

2. Ease of learning
ColdFusion is also very easy to learn. It’s primarily tag-based – a source of derision for many hard-core web scripters – but this means that it’s easy to understand and fast to learn for developers who may have started out with HTML. That also translates into lower application development costs, particularly for organizations who may look in-house first when extra development assistance is needed. It’s worth noting that CFSCRIPT blocks allow almost all coding to be done with ECMA-like scripting instead of tags, so developers more used to PHP, ASP classic, ActionScript or JavaScript can also get familiar fast.

3. The Java factor
Since version 6, ColdFusion has been based on Java. In fact, ColdFusion was marketed for a while as the fastest way to build and deploy a J2EE application. Organizations that have existing systems or who need to interface with existing Java applications find this attractive, mostly again for the development speed.

So there you have it. I’m not going to argue that ColdFusion is the best solution for every job – in fact, when it comes to small sites, in my own business I often choose PHP for it’s ubiquity and the low cost of hosting. But whenever significant amounts of custom programming or integration with other systems is required, the speed and ease of development makes ColdFusion my number one choice.