open-source software and adjunct cio business analyst and technical writer

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Most businesses pay high software licensing fees without getting an adequate return on that investment. But there are options available to them that can dramatically lower software costs without sacrificing features and functions. It can be accomplished by using open-source software.

Commercial products don't have to be abandoned entirely. Mission-critical applications can continue to run on Windows while open source is leveraged where it makes sense. It's really about choices and flexibility. Let's get to the heart of the matter. What is open source? What are the risks? What's available? How much can your firm save?

The three key differentiators between open-source software and commercial software are the development process, the licensing terms and the support structure.

Any software purchase entails risks. Commercial firms may go out of business or change their focus. With open source, developer communities may abandon projects or take them in a direction that is not advantageous to your business. Be sure to select packages that have some history, are stable and generate significant download activity.

Go to, a website that hosts open-source projects, to find over 105,000 projects. Be aware that most of those are either inactive or immature. SourceForge provides information such as the development status, latest releases, activity percentile, operating environment, etc. Stay with software that is stable, has a recent release history, is actively being updated, and meets your needs.

Some things to look for are a history of stable releases, multiple books published about the software, availability of foreign language versions, very active online forums and the existence of multiple support options through a variety of vendors. These characteristics indicate that the software is well-known and widely-used thus making it likely that it will have a vibrant future in your business.

So what's available in the world of open-source software? In a word, everything! It's not just about Linux. While Linux is the one of the biggest and best known open-source projects, it represents just a small fraction of what's available. Many projects support Microsoft Windows and Apple's Macintosh. Here is a tiny sample of what's out there and widely used.

open-source SoftwareDescriptionCommercial Equivalent
Apache HTTP ServerWeb serverMicrosoft IIS
GanttProjectProject ManagementMicrosoft Project or ABT Workbench
LinuxOperating SystemMicrosoft Windows
MySQLDatabaseMicrosoft SQL Server or Oracle DB
OpenGroupwareShared CalendarMicrosoft Exchange
OpenOfficeDesktop Office SuiteMicrosoft Office or WordPerfect Offi ce
Qmail or SendMailEmail serverMicrosoft Exchange or Lotus Notes
RsyncBackup and file synchronizationCA ARCServe or Veritas Backup
SambaFile and printer sharingWindows Server

open-source software is freely available. Depending on the size of the company, savings from a few hundred dollars per user to a few thousand dollars per user can be realized by switching to these packages. The savings are in licensing costs only. Support costs won't change significantly. Still, the potential savings are huge and can be larger depending on what other software can be replaced.

So what's the catch? If open-source software is so great, why aren't companies like Microsoft and Oracle out of business? There are two very simple reasons. Firstly, the open-source movement has only gained significant momentum in the last few years. Companies like IBM, HP and Sun have poured millions of dollars into open source, lighting a fire under the category.

Secondly, old habits die hard. Businesses are accustomed to purchasing software from major vendors. There is a fear of the unknown. Only time can change this behavior. Eventually, every business will use one or more open-source software packages. This trend will alter the fundamental business model for the software industry.

It's well known that software vendors don't sell us software. They sell us a license or "right to use". Some of these vendors are pushing the concept of software as a service rather than a product. You would pay an annual licensing fee for which you'd receive the right to use the software and have your questions and problems addressed.

Why not embrace open source? Let customers install the software at no up-front cost, then charge an annual maintenance and support fee. Software companies are relieved of the burden of creating large software development organizations. They follow the community model and donate to the process through direct investment or hiring developers to work on open-source projects. Even companies that use the software could jump in and support the community in order to get the features and functions they want. Everyone wins.

Open source represents a new model for the development, distribution and support of software. It's a trend that will change the way we think about software forever. Your company may as well take the plunge today. It's only a matter of time before it does.

Vin D'Amico is Founder and President of DAMICON, your ADJUNCT CIO™. He is an expert in using open-source software to increase worker productivity and reduce IT costs.

This article appeared in Vin's monthly Virtual Business column for the IndUS Business Journal in April 2004.

To learn more about how DAMICON can help you run a superior IT shop, please take a look at our ADJUNCT CIO™ Program.

Virtual Business

Virtual Business

This column appears monthly in the IndUS Business Journal.