It's funny what a global economic recession will do to seemingly-invincible and well-heeled software vendors. (Not funny "hah hah," mind you. But funny "ohhhh" or "wow, look at that car crash!") Late last week, news broke that midsize customers purchasing either SAP's Business All-in-One or the venerable SAP ERP software packages can now also receive its CRM application for free. For free?! Yup. (What's next: Automobile manufacturers actually giving you floor mats for free when you buy a $25,000 SUV?! Airlines not charging for their passengers' suitcases?!) Economic panic and business angst certainly have a way of shining a harsh light on where today's enterprises are deriving the most value for their technology investments\u2014and where they're not. Apparently, SAP execs had heard enough of what the market was telling them about the demand for their CRM product: After all, you don't usually give stuff away for free when customers are flocking to buy it. The SAP "Free CRM" offer has a series of "catches," of course: The CRM software licenses are gratis, but companies must buy at least 15 "application professional" and 15 "application limited professional" licenses for the ERP applications, reports the IDG News Service's Chris Kanaracus. Oh, and by the way (fine print...cough! cough!), customers must also pay annual maintenance costs on the CRM licenses. (If there ever was a more apt example of the saying "Ignore that man behind the curtain," I can't think of one.) Just a thought: Customers aren't buying SAP, Oracle and other ERP players' software now because they are ruthlessly (and finally) questioning the total value of enterprise software\u2014including the sometimes exorbitant and value-challenged maintenance and support fees (see: Siemens flap) attached to said software purchases. In other words, does SAP think potential mid-market customers are that stupid? If I'm an SMB on the outside looking in (meaning, I've just about outgrown my QuickBooks software or I'm on a Tier II system and I need to upgrade), do I really want to get involved with Big Boy ERP software (and all the associate collateral damage) right now? Or, on the other hand, might the German software giant onto something with this "free-conomic" strategy\u2014like those businesses that lure customers into their stores with Free Wi-Fi in hopes that they'll buy some of their more tangible goods? We know, for instance, that Oracle heavily discounts its license costs (if you're a good enough negotiator) to get the software sale, so the free-for-you-and-me strategy is not out of the question: Give the software away for next to nothing and make your money on the related services, upgrades and support. (Microsoft, in fact, just released its free security software.) Capitalism in its purest form sure has a funny way of exposing a business's flaws or handsomely rewarding a business's smart strategies that actually help its customers. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and while SAP's "Free CRM" ploy reeks of a bit of desperation, it also may be a glimpse of the future of enterprise software. Oh, by the way, like all good deals out there, SAP's promotion does come to an end: Get Your Free SAP CRM by Dec. 18, 2009. Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.