Thursday, June 14, 2012

Open Source Misconceptions

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.

Another 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.

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