What is Open Source Software?

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Let´s be honest, very few businesses nowadays can escape the use of computers and software. It´s a cost for pretty much every business and a plays an essential part in our daily productivity. This increased productivity comes at a cost though. The cost of your PC likely includes a license fee for Microsoft Windows, all the software you use needs to be either purchased outright and then upgraded from time to time or you use a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee for the use of the software. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, is there an alternative for businesses on a tight budget, startups watching every penny or medium sized enterprises that need to pay significant money for annual software costs? Well, open source is something to consider and could save you considerable money, especially if you are on a tight budget or have many employees using computers.

As an SME you probably have come to terms with the costs of buying and running software in your day to day business. There’s a chance you may not be aware of open source software or if you have heard of it, you perhaps have no idea if it can have a positive impact on your business, be easy to use or help you save you money. After all, what’s the harm in choosing OpenOffice or Libreoffice and saving big from not coughing up for Microsoft Office when you can access almost the same features for free? Why purchase Photoshop while GIMP picture enhancement is free and effective as well, especially if you are not a heavy user? Why pay for the latest Windows OS while Ubuntu could work just fine? Why pay for custom web development when you could use WordPress? The list goes on….

Even global tech giants are now embracing open source and partnering together to develop the next generation products, such as the Intel, Netflix, Microsoft, Cisco, Google and Amazon partnership with Mozilla that intends to create the next generation video formats for ultra high definition media streaming.  If you’ve not considered the open source concept and how it can impact your small business, perhaps you should. Here’s why.

What is the open source concept and software?

According to the UK Government, open source software, while being like any other it’s distinguishable by certain freedom guarantees, terms of use and licensing in comparison with proprietary software that has all these guarantees and rights restricted. Open source concept means anyone has the right to modify and access the source code, redistribute, reuse and use the software without paying any costs or royalties.

These simple guarantees mean that open source software comes with critical implications, such as:

  • Encouragement to reuse
  • Enable easier integration, flexibility and innovation
  • Software price driven to zero
  • Zero service and vendor monopoly thus no motivation to hide security vulnerabilities and defects
  • There’s no single-vendor meaning the services choice are diverse including support
  • Sustained competition benefits customers such as small businesses
  • Lower entry barriers

What are the pros of using open source software for your business?

Save money. With zero direct costs incurred in using any open source software your small business could save a small fortune when compared to purchasing proprietary software. In fact, the Standish Group in 2008 reported that businesses using open source software had a combined saving of $60 billion. Almost a decade later you can be sure businesses are probably saving more than that amount today.

Use your old computer hardware for a longer time

Open source programs are made for use by anyone. They are free and no payment is required for any copy downloaded. Since the software is made to work with any system you can actually use your aging hardware rather than replacing it to meet the requirements of proprietary closed software. That way, you can save even more money while lengthening the use of your coveted old gear. Let´s be honest, creating a basic word processing document hasn´t changed much in the last ten years, you need to type your content, format it, spell check it and you are good to go, for people with “standard” needs an open source program like Open Office which includes an equivalent of Word and Excel should do the trick. Don´t get me wrong, the open source programs are pretty comprehensive and have many features that you may not even need but in terms of your everyday needs it may be all you need and all without paying subscription fees or purchase costs.

State of the art world class software

Giant companies might hire the best tech talent but it doesn’t mean it’s what you get with proprietary software the creative tech talents are expected to provide. Open source allows the most creative software developers globally, including those employed by giant tech companies, to let out their creativity and ideas where they’re not confined but given the freedom to create unique programs and experiment. At the end of the day, your business gets access to state-of-the-art programs and world class software free.

Highly reliable software

Those who’ve used Linux Operating System such as Ubuntu will tell you they’ve probably not invested any money to acquire anti-virus software for their computers. They don’t need to; open source software as mentioned has the most talented and skillful tech experts globally working on it around the clock, hundreds of persons to tens of hundreds at any given time. It means lots of eyes are on the program, checking for bugs, fixing defects and improving the software. Ultimately, you can buy a proprietary expensive software that’s years behind a similar open source software you can access free with excellent useful features, better performance and excellent in quality.

Flexibility of use

Open source software ensures your business is not locked to the system the vendor of a closed software requires you to have to use their program. You can actually find so many different programs that choosing the right one can even be difficult. In the end, your system requirements will be met without extra hassle to upgrade or find another system that costs money.

Adapt and modify

Open source concept gives you the right and actually encourages you to adapt the available open source software and modify it to meet your business needs, which is absolutely impossible with any proprietary system out there.

Are there cons with the use of open source software?

There are a few disadvantages that come with open source programs.

Not a commercial product

Open software is more in line with the wishes of the developer than your business; in the first place it may not be created as a commercial product. However, in most cases you can actually find a direct alternative to the proprietary closed tool from the open source universe with the same user friendliness and interface you’re used to. For instance Linux Ubuntu is so easy to use it looks a lot like Windows for those used to the Microsoft OS.

Not as user-friendly as you’d like

Open source concept is more inclined at development and improving it than being user friendly.  It means that even as you access highly advanced software with great features the user interface and usability might be a tad lower than a similar expensive closed source program. As you have nothing to lose you can download a copy of the open source program and try it for yourself.

Support

Support is largely by the open source community who respond to fix problems. Depending on the way you look at it, this can be an advantage or a weakness. While a problem rarely occurs with open source programs, if this ever takes place it might take a little time before you actually get sorted. Nonetheless, there’s always a group of developers looking for such weaknesses and fixing them due to such a highly positive competition among developers who give their best virtually all the time.

Indirect cost might apply

Open source software is wholly free. But if you go with external support you might find yourself incurring support costs. Generally though for programs like Gimp and Open Office or Libre Office you should not need any specialist support.

Vulnerabilities

If there’s a malicious developer who has spotted a weak spot in the source code this could be a disadvantage. A malicious attack code could be left dormant for a long time before it’s executed. This means that if you choose open source programs you should regularly update them and download plugins, themes and software from reliable sources only. We would also recommend scanning the downloaded installer file with your anti virus program to be extra safe.

In the end Open Source offers your business lots of freedom and can save you significant money, especially if your business has many employees as license fees can go through the roof when you are have many users. You can modify, adapt, tweak, explore or test the open source program and do anything with it. However, regular updates shouldn’t be ignored. Otherwise you could be neglecting the security part. We recommend you give open source software  a go and see if it works for you, only download from reputable sources and spend a little time to get to know how to use the software. As your business grows and your software needs increase, the saving could be enormous.

Where to next?

Libre Office – An open source similar to Microsoft Office

Gimp – Open source photo manipulation software similar to Adobe Photoshop

Inkscape – Open source drawing software similar to Adobe Illustrator for creating illustrations, vector graphics and more

Ubuntu – Open source operating system for PCs

WordPress – Open source content management system for building websites

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