How Open is Open Source

by Kunal Rupera    Apr 07, 2009

Businesses today depend on technology for their daily needs. Some businesses use IT in a small way, while others implement huge and complex systems to enhance their businesses. No matter what the size, businesses are dependent on IT either by compulsion or because they see value. The application software is the core component of any IT infrastructure. The associated hardware and networking infrastructure supplement the software application. 


When looking for your application, there are several options available; some proprietary and others open source. Some of them are free, some low cost, while others come at a hefty price point. Many companies are now thinking about implementing open source software solutions in order to reduce costs. The general perception about open source software is that it is FREE or extremely low cost. Is it? We would say it depends.


Here are Top 4 points that one should keep in mind while choosing an open-source solution for your business.

Do you need open source software?


Open source software in the traditional sense means software whose source code is freely available and modifiable. (Yes, we know there are versions of software that are only pseudo open source where the source is available, but not for free. Or the source code is available, but not modifiable, etc). In our opinion, most businesses should not, and will not, care if a software is open source. Even if they have control over the source code, they might not have the technical capability to solve a particular problem or implement a particular feature.


So, there will be certain software that will work ‘out of the box’ with the features you would want, while others like ERP, CRM or BI systems need to be highly customised as per the nature of business. However, you can hire talent to modify an open source software as per your requirements. For example, if you are using a popular PHP application, the source code is available and can be freely modified by in-house talent at a reasonable cost. This would entirely depend on the type of application and the expertise available including its price.


Understand your business requirements


The very first step that any business needs to figure out is what they plan to achieve by implementing a particular open-source solution. Ask yourself, "How will I make my work cheaper/faster/easier using this tool? What business objective will this tool facilitate?" For, every IT solution entails direct and indirect costs. For example, before you deploy any ERP, CRM or BI solution or migrate your existing solution, you should have clear and quantifiable objectives that should be met. Will this CRM software help me better understand and, in turn, serve my customers? Will this ERP solution help me reduce inventories? Will it facilitate better warehouse management? Will the BI solution help me gain more insights about my products and services that I don’t already know? Is it worth the time, effort and price?


How do I facilitate the implementation?


If you have identified a unified communication solution or a ERP, CRM or a BI solution, you should know what features you would require the most. Do you require features like collaboration? How much control is required? What is the level of security that you would expect? You should evaluate all offerings (open source or not/paid or free) based on the above set of requirements. Next you must hunt for all possible offerings so that you can compare multiple solutions and their pros and cons.


Open source DOES NOT always mean free


It is a common misconception that open source software is free. While many software follow that norm, it is not a rule. You might have to spend on certain open source software. Also, there are training and support costs associated with open source software as well.


While it might not be very difficult to learn a shiny new open source browser, you cannot say the same about a content management or a ERP/CRM system. For example, for a particular open source software that is not popular, the availability of support will be lower and support costs will be higher as a general rule. Also, open-source projects such as Firefox, Thunderbird, Apache, etc are well-established. Using a well-established software ensures long-term support for the software in terms of features, bugs and security patches. There are a lot of open source software that started with a bang and lost steam over a period of time. Also, commercial and non-open source software may be good in terms of providing better support as those companies are legally required to do so. Also, you can install a low cost/free open source solution and buy support from many commercial vendors. 


Conclusion


Having considered the above-mentioned points, perform an in-depth research before deciding on which solution to adopt.

Related links:

BJP to Adopt Open Source, Connect District Offices
VMware Launches Open Source Virtual Desktop

Open Source Automated Trading Platform Unveiled