Sunday, March 15, 2009

Open Source Business Model Thoughts

Twittestract: Sunday Musing is about using open source software in a business setting. It's not really free, but it has its place.

For anyone who is trying to maximize the value of their IT expenditures, the notion of free software is attractive. As Microsoft and some of the other vendors like to point out, "free" does not really mean free. In many cases, the licensing costs (the free part of open source) are only a small part of the total cost of a project. The consulting fees, infrastructure and labor costs to implement the software can dwarf the licensing, even when working with a traditional vendor.

The message here is that we still have to look at the total cost of the projects. There will be times when paying the licensing fees for the comfortable, well known software is the best and safest way to get our organization back to its "real" work.

In particular situations, though, going with open source is still attractive:
  • If you truly have no cash money: the trade off with open source has always been time. Red Hat and other early pioneers in the field discovered that consulting and paid support for free software was a valid business model. There is a large population of people for whom technology is still a hobby. They are more than willing to test software, to improve that software and to tinker. These people are not going to pay for support, but the will invest large chunks of time to get things working. And they are likely to publish their findings in a public place. If you or your organization have no cash but can find time to invest, you can have stable, world class systems for "free"
  • If you are anti-big business: some organizations need to be open source because it supports a philosopical part of the mission. It gives your organization credibility with those who believe that the big business software companies are evil. Be careful here though: IBM, Microsoft and Novell spend money to support open source initatives. Any message you craft around your open source usage can sound hypocritical to those who know about this relationship.
  • If you control the whole organization or are starting from scratch. By control, we are speaking of the computers and the software that runs on them. Many organizations who want to explore open source find that they have one or two pieces of software that do not have open source equivalents. This makes an open source implementation more difficult or at least less comprehensive (e.g. just replacing the email software instead of the whole operating system).
  • If the hardware is old: which is especially true of operating systems. In general, though, open source software packages run at an acceptible speed on older/less powerful hardware. Hardware does have a finite life, though and will fail at some point. Take proper precautions to protect data.
  • If you're collaborating using main stream standards: email, html, pdf, etc. An early development when open source software became a viable alternative was that it could read and write the documents produced by proprietary software systems.
Hopefully some ideas to help you think about this issue. For most organizations, a mixture of open source and paid license software is probably best. As IT matures as a business function we need to focus on business problems. The tools we use to solve those problems are unimportant to the organization. By considering all alternatives, though we can be sure that we are presenting the best solutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment