Back in the 1990’s when businesses first started using the Internet to put up their digital shingles, there were a host of self-proclaimed anarchists who spouted that information should remain free and vowed to never pay for software licenses–or anything else for that matter. They were written off as social misfits and generally disregarded.
However, after over a decade of Internet busy-ness, could it be that these ‘social deviants’ were onto something? It seems like that’s the case.
Open-source software is software that is designed with little to no intellectual property restrictions and allows the users to use, alter, improve and redistribute the software without charge. Many times, open-source software is developed with the collaborative efforts of a group of programmers under the belief that collective intellect leads to better, more stable product development.
The term ‘open source’ is a play on the software’s source code, while normally proprietary or ‘closed’, is ‘open’ and available for anyone to customize or improve to suit their needs.
Historically, open source software was a labor of love for hobbyists and hackers. Today, open source is a multi-billion dollar industry and many companies opt to use open-source software as their primary software platforms— from word processing to operating systems. Granted, a good chunk of these businesses are not-for-profit companies but for-profit businesses are readily adopting open source in increasing numbers. Should you?
The benefits of open source
The benefits of using open-source software in your business are numerous.
- The price. Instead of spending a few thousand dollars to license and maintain the latest office productivity suite, you can download, install and configure a piece of software, like OpenOffice, for free.
- The stability. Because open-source software is developed in a collaborative fashion, there are literally thousands of pairs of eyes available to catch most bugs before the latest versions are released—this makes for software that rarely crashes or causes other software conflicts.
- The competitive edge. A business is only as good as its ability to retrieve and process information efficiently, effectively and strategically. Many times open-source software eliminates common annoyances and limitations that mainstream software presents, and thus allows for better usability and a faster-moving company overall.
Want to read more on using open source software? Check these out:
The drawbacks of open source
With all the benefits of using open-source software, it’s very easy to rush headlong into open-source zealotry but, beware.
- There are some instances when open source is not the answer; for example, when the costs of training, support or maintaining the open-source application would outweigh the costs for traditional software licensing. Remember, free software licensing often means no telephone or e-mail support.
- There may be legal implications of being unable to prove, for compliance purposes, that you have the legal right to use the software.
- And, if your company is using software to transmit or house sensitive client data, security might be a concern as well. Many companies take the smart position of not using open-source applications for mission-critical operations such as financial or medical records.
The best thing to do when trying to decide if open source is for your company is to ask a few pointed questions.
- What are the requirements that the software has to meet? What must the software be able to do in order to play an effective role in your business’ technology infrastructure?
- What level of support do you need?
- What’s the trade-off of using an open-source solution? What’s the trade-off of not going with open source?
For certain, the grass is not always greener with open source but, if you plan to build a robust, sustainable company, open source is worth a close examination of the pros and cons.