To many the term "Open Source" means "Free" and if you consider that you can indeed download and use most Open Source software, that meaning is accurate. There are however several misconceptions that Small to Medium sized Enterprise managers might have that need to be cleared up so they can make an intelligent decision on whether to use Open Source software or not.
The first misconception is that Open
Source is lower quality than proprietary. The idea comes from the old
saying "there is no free lunch" and "you get what you pay for" and if
you apply those to Open Source software the conclusion is that if it is
free then it isn't worth much. What non technical people need to
understand is that the vast majority of Open Source software is created
by teams (aka Communities) of developers that have a shared need, and by
working together, they produce something they need at a fraction of the
cost of hiring an equivalent sized team to develop the same software in
house and proprietary. The Apache Software Foundation includes so many
high quality Open Source software products, tools and libraries that I
dare say, virtually all applications developed today for enterprises and
products include some open source software in it from apache.org.
misconception is that if you use Open Source software you must share
your customizations with the community. While it is true that some Open
Source software licenses have that provision, it varies greatly and you
must look at the license. It can be tricky and if you are building a
product for your own use internally in your organization, then you are
normally pretty safe and you can use it as you wish. It only becomes a
factor when you try to build a product and sell it, then the Open Source
software you want to use must adhere to their license and that could be
tricky. Only solution is to have your attorney check the licenses of
all the Open Source software you want to include in your product.
The last misconception is that Open Source Software is
unsupported except by forums. That is certainly partially true,
apache.org for example is mostly forum/community supported. The fact is
you will find many active apache.org forums to be more responsive than
the paid support desks of many proprietary software companies. It is
also a fact that many companies provide ample and high quality support
on a per instance or support contract basis, such as Spring Source,
OpenBravo, Pentaho, and Sugar CRM and some even have numerous Business
Process Outsourcing partners that can do customizations, training and
other related services.
Just because it is Open Source
doesn't mean it isn't high quality, limited license or unsupported.
Some of the best applications, libraries and support groups are in the
Open Source Software marketplace, and for most Small to Medium sized
Enterprises, they will offer the best value.