What is open-source software?
OSS is software that is freely available to use and change. Unlike proprietary software, it has no copyright holder and thus opens up a wide range of possibilities for users interested in changing and manipulating the original source code to best suit their needs. Some well-known examples of OSS include Mozilla Firefox and the Linux operating system.
Open-source software and your business
In Australia, Kennards Hire has recently replaced their Windows servers with Linux at 90 branches, and is already running OSS on their computer desktops. The move to make Linux the basis of their new point of sale system has been touted as one of the biggest Linux desktop projects in Australia.
While many businesses struggle to find ways to reduce IT expenditure in this economy, OSS offers more than the possibility of cost savings. Many of the companies that have successfully adopted OSS have noted the quality, security, flexibility and reliability of open software in comparison to commercial software.
Benefits of open-source software
Strong customer support: Previously, the major barrier to OSS adoption by businesses was the concern over a lack of technical support. The growth of companies such as Red Hat and Novell, who provide subscription-based customer support and training for open-source software to businesses, has largely put those fears to rest.
Flexibiy: The aty to customise the software’s code and make it your own has given many organisations a competitive advantage. This is allowed because OSS has a natural proclivity towards experimentation and customisation.
Cost: Most open-source software is either free or fairly inexpensive, especially in comparison to commercial software products. The long-term cost savings that OSS is able to provide a company can be huge when you take into account reduced licensing fees, upgrades, servicing costs and so on.
Security: It’s well documented that quite often OSS provides greater security when compared to proprietary software. The availability of the source code means users can collaborate, identify and fix bugs or security issues with relative ease.
Freedom of choice: As users are not bound by licensing, businesses are not bound to any one vendor. This is highly attractive, as it provides greater freedom and control over the direction of the company’s IT development. In the past, for example, it was common for web design companies to offer website builds based off of their unique content management system (CMS), and would then charge users a licencing fee. However, nowadays most designers use open-source CMS to code websites. This means that if your company decides to change design firms, they can, as the website code is based on freely available code.
Barriers to OSS adoption
Training: While OSS is certainly gaining in popularity, it has yet to become a mainstream option. As such, finding employees who are experienced in using OSS, such as Linux, can be difficult. However, training is always an option.
Compatibility: Some of the technical limitations of OSS can be seen in compatibility with a company’s existing software. Quite often, not being able to use key proprietary software alongside OSS is an immediate deal breaker. For example, popular accounting tools such as Quicken and MYOB are only compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems.
Legal issues and accountability: Concerns surrounding intellectual property, warranty and lack of ownership of the software are also major obstacles in the way of OSS adoption. According to an OSS research paper by Kavitha Gurusamy and John Campbell, “For proprietary products, vendors have some liability and are responsible for issues with their products. This was not the case with OSS, as no entity assumes responsibility for issues with OSS products.”
The opportunities that OSS can provide small businesses go far beyond cost savings. While there remain a number of barriers to adoption, both perceived and real, integrating OSS is still worth investigating, especially when you consider the potential advantages to your business.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Justin Lim is a freelance writer and has over four years experience writing on business related topics. Justin is a former journalist at Money Management – a financial trade publication – and is currently freelancing, writing in a number of fields ranging from business to entertainment with regular features in Yahoo Moneyhound and businessroom.com.