You have two options, when it comes to selecting software for use in your business. The first option is that of using proprietary software. The other option is that of using open source software. The difference between the two is in that the proprietary software has to be paid for, whereas the open source software is available free of charge. That, at least, is the most commonly understood difference. But digging deeper, you discover that there are many other differences between open source software and proprietary software. One of those other key differences is in the fact that the source code for the open source software is ‘open’ (available to all people, and can be tweaked in various ways), whereas the source code for the proprietary software is ‘closed’ – and thus only fully available to the software vendors. Another key difference is in that the open source software is largely developed and supported by ‘communities’ whereas the proprietary software is largely developed and supported by ‘vendors’.
Having understood the concept of open source software, you may find yourself being keen on using such software in your business (as opposed to using the proprietary software). In this article, we will be trying to further explore the subject of using open source software for business.
Pros of using open source software for business
There are several advantages associated with usage of open source software in business settings.
First, as we noted earlier, is the fact that the open source software is available free of charge. This means that you don’t have to pay for open source software. This can translate into an opportunity for you to save very significant sums of money that you might otherwise have spent on procurement of proprietary software. With proprietary software, you often have to pay for the initial installation, and for the subsequent upgrades.
Second, as we noted earlier, the open source software is developed and supported by communities, which are largely driven by passion. This often makes it better than proprietary software, which is developed and supported by vendors, who are largely driven by the profit motive. User support for the open source software often ends up being better than the user support available for the proprietary software. Secondly, bugs and other flaws in the open source software are easily identified and corrected, because the source code for the software is available to more people. With proprietary software, major bugs and flaws often go undetected for very long: because the source code is ‘closed’ and therefore unavailable for scrutiny. This has security implications too: meaning that on account of the open nature of the source code for open source software, it is (paradoxically) potentially more secure than proprietary software.
Third, having made the decision to use open source software in your business, you can have peace of mind in knowing that you will never have software-related legal problems. This is important, because if you opt to use proprietary software, you will have to live with the fact that you may, at one time or another, fall short of the vendor’s licensing requirements: leading to legal problems.
Identifying the open source software to use
For every particular business need, you are likely to find a number of open source software applications you can make use of. You will therefore find yourself having to select the ideal one. To help you in making a good choice, you may need to read extensively about the various available software solutions: to identify the one that is best suited to your specific needs. You may also need to read reviews for the various available solutions, to see what other people who have used them have to say. The nice thing about open source software communities is in that they tend to be very honest about their software – its capabilities, its limitations… and so on. In that regard, they tend to be unlike the vendors of proprietary software, who can, at times, be a bit dishonest – as they try to get as many buyers for their software as possible.
Ultimately, there are three key steps you will have to follow, when identifying open source software for use in your business. In the first step, you will need to carry out a needs-assessment exercise, so as to have a clear picture on the exact type of software solution you are looking for. In the second step, you will need to undertake a search, so as to identify the open source software applications that are available in that niche. And in the third step, you will need to compare the various available solutions, so as to identify the one that is ideal for your needs (the specific needs you identified in the first step).
You obviously need to carry out the three-step process for every aspect of your business that needs an open source software solution. If, for instance, you are looking for an open source accounting application, you need to go through the three-step process. If, at the same time, you are also looking for an open source integrated HR solution, you need to go through the three-step process again (this time, in search of an ideal open source integrated HR solution).
Implementing the open source software in your business
Having identified the ideal open source software application(s) for your business needs, the next step is to get a hold of the software and implement it. Nowadays, most of the open source software solutions are available on the Internet, from where they can be downloaded. We also have some open source software solutions that can be accessed from the cloud.
You may need to tweak the open source software applications, in line with your specific business needs. The beauty of open source software is in the fact that it can be tweaked in every imaginable way, to suit any imaginable business need. In this regard, it is unlike proprietary software, which often has huge limitations in terms of the extent to which it can be tweaked.
It will probably be critical to give your staff adequate training, for them to be able to use the open source software effectively. For most of the open source software applications, there are tutorials you can make use of, to gain the necessary know-how to use the software effectively. You will also tend to find online message boards and forums where users of the open source software can share notes and raise any questions.
After implementing open source software, it is important to follow-up for upgrades as they become available, Then you need to ensure that your upgrade your software regularly, as need arises.