Spreadsheets, Open Source vs Proprietary QA Testing Tools: How to Support a Strategic Approach to Software Testing

Saving money on QA tools might be hurting your performance and jeopardizing strategy execution.

Software testing is not on the radar for many organizations. After all, testing requires an investment in the right tools and people, and the benefits can be difficult to grasp. It’s akin to purchasing insurance. Such spend can feel like wasted money until catastrophe strikes.

Unfortunately, too many organizations wait for disasters to occur before they take testing seriously. Once an event occurs – like a high-profile bug being released into production – the cost to find and fix software code issues is even higher. In fact, at that point, the expense extends far beyond testing. A well-publicized software vulnerability can land organizations in the headlines and quickly erode marketplace perceptions, customer confidence and revenue streams.

Considering what’s at stake, organizations would be wise to embrace a strategic, proactive approach to software testing. With that in mind, this article explores key considerations, including the pros and cons of “free” or open source tools vs. proprietary quality assurance (QA) tools.

The Imperative to Make Software Testing a Strategic Priority

While some organizations completely overlook software testing, others treat it as a checkbox exercise tacked onto the development process. But even that approach exposes the organization to risk.

It’s essential to treat QA and testing as a strategic endeavor for more reasons than to avoid the potential fallout and expense associated with cleaning up after a software issue. Organizations that do not invest in software quality – or that force software testers to use the cheapest tools –signal that quality isn’t a priority. In turn, they fail to attract high-quality employees and see high levels of employee churn. On the other hand, organizations that invest in innovative quality software attract and retain top talent.

This investment also eliminates a potential schism between software developers that are equipped with the most up-to-date tools and testers that are an integral part of the software development process. This is particularly important in organizations embracing an agile approach.

Put another way, investing in software QA and testing is the same as investing in the organization’s people and culture.

How Spreadsheets Fall Short

Many organizations initially call upon easily accessible and essentially free spreadsheets to document their testing. At first, it’s a powerful and effective tool. However, as organizations expand their development efforts, spreadsheet shortcomings slowly but surely make their impact.

For one, spreadsheets weren’t designed to provide clear visibility into software development issues and potential fixes. Being able to see test status is a far cry from understanding why a test passed or failed. Plus, it’s difficult to keep traceability as a top priority when you’re using spreadsheets, which make it difficult to view comprehensive document or test result history.

When relying on spreadsheets, testers must spend inordinate amounts of time documenting, organizing, and managing tests – stealing from more beneficial exploratory testing time. Even then, it’s challenging for both testers and managers to keep track of test cases and software defects using spreadsheets. In turn, managers pester the test team for much-needed reports –another distraction from testing, as the team is forced to hack at fragile, complex spreadsheet formulas to produce reports.

Combined, these deficiencies mean organizations inadvertently overlook many software issues and needed tests, in spite of best efforts. Simply put, spreadsheets cripple QA efforts and strategic testing initiatives.

Define Your Testing Requirements

Once an organization’s development and testing have evolved to the point where testers need to document test cases, it’s time for a tool designed for the task at hand. The best QA tools enable the following:

  • Linking to software requirements
  • Syncing in real time with issue tracking
  • Submitting defects
  • Tracking, categorizing and reporting on testing progress

Beyond these essentials, organizations should look for a tool that supports their unique requirements. Key considerations include whether the test team needs:

  • Test case version control that makes it possible to track test cases, as well as anytime someone touched the test case details
  • An on-premises installation of the tool because the company won’t sanction cloud services
  • To share test cases across projects and products
  • To produce useful reports automatically on single projects, as well as across projects for a holistic view
  • The ability to combine all types of quality checks, including manual testing, automated testing, and other code analysis tools Professional support for expert assistance and guidance as needed

Understand Options and the Tradeoffs

With a clear idea of testing needs, organizations can evaluate their options. While many tools exist, the key determinant is whether to choose a free, open source or proprietary tool. The following table outlines the key features of both types of QA tools.

Free, Open Source

  • Community support: Access to rapid answers or a knowledge base of existing answers for a widely used tool; less accessible answers for a less popular tool.
  • Transparency: Open code means organizations can better understand how the tool is developed, validating by using third-party tools.
  • Flexibility: With access to time and developers, organizations can update/customize an open source tool to fit their needs.
  • Security: Varies and can be challenging to determine.


  • Support: With a paid tool comes ready access to support as needed, as well as the option to pay for the right level of support.
  • Stability: Reliable releases and roadmaps.
  • Innovation: In most cases, proprietary software beats out open source software because money is invested into the tool’s development.
  • Usability: In general, proprietary tools are more usable because they are produced by paid, experienced developers and visual designers.

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