There is Such a Thing as a Free App Again

Keir Bowden
5 min readMar 6, 2023

This post had a last minute change of tack, as Salesforce rowed back their plans to charge for security reviewing free apps. It’s still something I wanted to publish, as I think free apps add real value to many customers and I’d hate to see them go away.

Earlier this year Salesforce announced changes to the way that app exchange listings are charged — a lot of us missed this, but Todd Halfpenny, one of my co-leaders of the London Salesforce Developers group, pointed us at it during the Feb event. Instead of a flat fee to list ($2550) and a yearly renewal ($150), the charges are switching to the security review — $999 per attempt. Apparently the stats showed that most apps take two attempts to pass the review, so for most publishers the cost would reduce slightly. So far so good. Then it turned out that these fees would also apply to free apps, whose costs to lists would go from $0 up front and $0 a year, to a minimum of $999 (potentially multiples of this) to list and an unpredictable cost for periodic re-reviews. Not such a good deal in this case. Obviously I understand that the security reviewers need to get paid, but for free apps it felt like something that Salesforce should invest in rather than pushing onto the publisher.

I’ve listed a free app ( BrightSIGN) since 2015, provided numerous bug fixes and enhancements, written blogs about how it use it in various scenarios, and supported end users when they had problems integrating it into their setup. All of this has been done in my own time at evenings and weekends. and I’ve never made a penny from it, or indeed tried to. In the interests of full transparency there may have been some marketing or other intangible benefits to my company — a few Salesforce people used it for demos which might have predisposed them to us over another partner, but I viewed this as a community contribution — something that a few hundred people a year found useful so worth a few hours of my time every month. To find out that in order to continue giving this away to Salesforce customers I was expected to cover any costs that the $170 billion company incurred didn’t seem reasonable.

When I read this I wasn’t mad, just disappointed. Disappointed that none of the decision makers at Salesforce could see this was a bad look. Fleecing the very people who are already going the extra mile to help you is the kind of thing we expect from Mega Evil Corps, not Salesforce.

I can understand charging for security reviews of freemium apps, as those are typically a sales channel for the full featured version, but free as in beer apps already represent a donation of someone’s time. I can also understand that if there are bad actors chucking poorly written apps over the fence and relying on the security review to find all the issues, that they should feel some consequences. It should be targeting the problem with laser accuracy though, not taking out the rest of us who play by the rules as well.

When I submit my app for review I do everything possible to ensure it will pass — the submission requires a fair bit of effort on my part and I’d far rather only do it once. I go through the code with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it adheres to all the security requirements and I run it though the automated tools that Salesforce make available to me. Sadly, I still find that I fail at least once, with something that is either a new requirement or that the tooling I have access to doesn’t pick up. If Salesforce are serious about ensuring that apps are in the best possible shape to pass the review, they should give us access to the same tools that they use. In a perfect world this would all be entirely automated and we’d just provide a link to the report showing we’d passed to the security review team.

Another issue with this approach is the periodic re-review — often you have to go through this even if you’ve made no changes to your app since it passed the previous review. Salesforce being in full control of changing the requirements under you, mandating that you have to re-review, and charging you for it, feels like a process open to abuse. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they would use this as a mechanism to generate revenue, but if they did there’s pretty much nothing we could do (aside from take to the socials!).

If Salesforce had pushed ahead with this plan, I would have pulled BrightSIGN from the app exchange without question. I might be able to get my company to cover app exchange fees, but that would involve a considerable amount of effort on my part to make the business case and there’s no guarantee of success. I’d still publish it, but it wouldn’t have the security review stamp of approval so potential users would have to decide if they trusted me or not. I’d likely supply the output from various security scanners, but there would be no way for anyone to prove that they applied to the package version that I was offering. I’d also tell everyone using it why I was having to do this, and I’m sure I’d bad mouth Salesforce quite a bit along the way.

While I’m a very trustworthy individual, I’m sure that some (like my evil co-worker) would be rubbing their hands at the thought of introducing disruptive packages into customer orgs. Like many attempts to block things in the past, it would just end up pushing them underground, almost certainly result in a less secure ecosystem, and give rise to the potential for data breaches that damage Salesforce’s reputation.

The good news it that Salesforce have decided, for now, not to charge for free app reviews after all. Hopefully this is a permanent change for apps that cannot be monetised, as long as we keep up our side of the bargain and bring our best work before the security review team. I can’t help seeing the dabs of the activist investors all over this — not that I think they are determined to take down free apps, more pushing for every department to be profitable. Sometimes the costs need to be seen in a wider context — it might be a free app that turns a prospect into a customer, makes the difference at renewal time, or helps a non-profit with limited budget achieve their goals. I think that’s worth investing in, which is why I built my app, and Salesforce should too.

Originally published at



Keir Bowden

CTO at BrightGen, author Visualforce Development Cookbook, multi Salesforce Developer MVP. Salesforce Certified Technical Architect. I am the one who codes.