Open source software has had its share of skeptics; there’s something about the word ‘proprietary’ that compels trust I suppose! But the fact is, that open source software is actually very effective, and makes way more business sense than proprietary software. Apparently, the rest of the world is coming around too. The 2013 Future of Open Source Survey – 7th Annual Survey results by Michael J Skok are loud and clear; the business world is going open source! Here are some numbers:
So, what is open source software?
Open source software refers to a software system whose source code is available to its users to view, edit and modify, to suit their specific needs. And before we go into its advantages, let’s first bust some popular myths.
The Top 5 Open Source Software Myth Buster
Yes and no! Well, a lot of open source software is free. But not all! Magento, the world’s most popular eCommerce platform for instance, comes in two versions – the basic ‘Community’ edition, which is free, and the loaded ‘Enterprise’ edition, which you need to pay for.
Cheap = No service?
Contrary to popular opinion, open source software does come with customer service. Sugar CRM for instance, offers a whole lot of free resources, from detailed documentation, to upgrade training. Red Hat, the company behind Linux, offers 24×7 phone and chat support, and: “In 2014, the Red Hat Customer Portal was recognized as one of the top support websites — for the fourth year in a row.” Also, do note that only one Salesforce edition offers 24×7 support – and it costs $300 per user per month!
Open source developers are unkempt, tunnel-vision nerds
Not true at all. The open source movement is home to many visionaries – think Linux, and Wikipedia. And as to unkempt, here are the ‘smart’ alecs at Suyati!
Open source guys hate all other developers
Not true. They just think that other developers are way inferior! 😀
OK, now for the real deal: The Business Benefits of Using Open Source Software
Low Total Cost of Ownership
Everyone knows that the initial costs of open source are seriously lower than their proprietary counterparts. But the cost differences are really stunning. The annual license cost of Microsoft’s Commerce Server is around $30,000. And that’s EVERY YEAR. On the other hand, the open source, NOP Server requires a onetime payment of less than $1000.. And that’s FOREVER. Also, both run on .NET – so which to opt for is a no-brainer really!
Then there are the upgrade costs. And, the financially draining rate of upgrades. Sugar CRM for instance was started in 2004, and now offers version 7. Salesforce on the other hand was started in 1999, and now runs version 31.0! Each upgrade comes with both a license cost, and some development costs to migrate data and code to the higher version, as well as to reconfigure existing integrations. Of course some companies like Salesforce ensure that this is minimal, but that’s not the case universally. MS Office for one PC at an enterprise costs close to $300 initially, and has an upgrade nearly every 2 years – around an additional $100 each. The problem is that upgrading can at many times give rise to compatibility and integration issues. Open source projects on the other hand sometimes decide to stick to the version they have, with no major ill effects.
Then there are support services, training, maintenance, integration, migration, and scaling (up, in the future) costs. For each of these, open source is either free, or very low cost.
In proprietary software, you are bound to the developer of the software for bug fixing, updates, troubleshooting and other support services. If the software provider decides to shut shop (it’s known to have happened – think Windows XP), or just discontinue the product, you’re in a fix. With open source, switching software poses no major problem, and you can also have an in-house developer access the source code and continue to provide the needed support; no hassles.
Besides, an open source software solution usually exists as an ecosystem of interconnected software, and all of it is open, and free/ cheap. Using one Oracle or Microsoft component usually implies that any software to be integrated has to be from the same provider, or from another costly, proprietary supplier.
Higher Level of Flexibility and Customization
Proprietary software can be compared to a ready to move in house. There might be a few things that you can tinker with, but the boundaries are set and it will be difficult or nearly impossible for you or a third party developer to make major changes to it. OSS isn’t that rigid. In the words of a Suyati engineer who explained it wonderfully: “The thing about open source is that the code is open to be tinkered with. It’s like you have a car, and you want to add a special air filter. If it was ordinary software, you would not be able to open the hood itself. You would have to go back to the manufacturer and ask them to do it. And if they don’t, you’d have to find some way to add a system on top of the car to do the job! But if it was open source, you could just lift the hood, and replace the filter. If a new filter is not available, you could just get someone to make it – way cheaper and more efficient than anything added on top of the car!” With OSS you can customize the software to what works best for you. These are some of the reasons why the world’s best known applications run on open source, like Facebook and Twitter, to name a few.
Faster Bug Fixes and Troubleshooting
This is one serious advantage that open source software has over proprietary software. In proprietary software when you come across a certain bug, you may have to send detailed information back to the developers to find a fix. This process may take a week, a month, a year or in some cases … never. However, with open source software you can get more hands and minds on the bug; call in your IT troops, freelance tech whizzes, third party developers and whoever else you think can get to it. Call in a bug fixing contest if you will, fastest finger first!
Very little re-inventing the wheel (sometimes called plugins!)
Free plugins are very rarely offered with proprietary software. The number of free iOS apps versus free Andriod apps is a good example. But, it’s not just about free. WordPress for example has 20.000+ plugins. This implies that there is an existing solution for just about any problem you may encounter. Most proprietary software comes with fewer plugins, implying that you either spend a lot of time developing a solution, or pay through your nose for an existing one. Besides, any issue that’s been ever solved is definitely put on the internet by a well meaning open source developer. You just need to adapt that to your application, and resolve issues.
Quality and R&D
With so many developers across the globe, what matters most is peer review and pride. The very nature of open source has pushed the industry into some very good habits that have in turn improved the quality of service provided. There is an added importance laid out on factors like transparency, clean design, good quality layout & construction, simplicity, reliability, and use of integrated systems. It isn’t a closed ‘I know what’s best and you have to take it’ approach anymore. Developers have to prove their mettle and this means quality guaranteed! When it comes to R&D, the best efforts are collaborative. And because the whole world is collaborating, open source definitely wins here.
Open source software is all built on certain core languages and principles. This means that an open source programmer can easily switch between software, and they are easier to train. As a result, it will be cheaper and easier to source personnel for open source projects. Another fact is that open source projects generally require less people than closed source projects which accomplish the same thing.
While this blog started out as a open source one, and has acquired an ‘Us Vs Them’ edge, the fact remains that both open and closed source have their pros and cons. But, never let it be said, even in anger, that open source does not make practical, business sense. If you would like to know more on how open source software can help your particular business, visit our FOSS page, or ask us. We are always’ open’ to help!