Open source software (OSS) has been around for about three decades, but has made some real in-roads in the past decade. OSS has long been used by online and cloud service providers, but now OSS is also a serious contender in the enterprise.
Firstly, for those who don’t know, there are three types of software:
- Closed-source software – where the source code is kept by the creator and is not released to the public, including to those who purchase the application, for example, Microsoft Windows.
- Open-source software – where the source code is released to the public, for example, the Linux Operating System.
- Dual-license – a hybrid of the two of sorts, it is open-source software with some closed-source components, for example, SugarCRM.
Enterprises have usually used closed source software on their production systems because of the belief that they are more stable, and that you get what you pay for (considering that most OSS are free). However, I argue that given the history of OSS, many such applications have shown to operate at the same or even better levels than some of the closed source counterparts.
While most enterprises considering OSS do so mainly on the basis of the cost savings, OSS can greatly benefit enterprises, beyond the cost factor.
Here are five ways how OSS can be valuable to your business.
1. You can modify the software to suit your needs.
With the required know-how, you can modify the source code to tailor the software to do the things you would like it to do. This way you can have software revolve around you and not the other way around.
2. OSS can be a source of competitive advantage.
If everyone is using the same software, then how does implementing it make you any different? However, as you are able to modify your software as you choose, the same OSS can be different for every installation. Those differences can add value to your customers, differentiating your from your competitors.
3. Support of a product can be extended beyond the vendor’s offerings.
I am not a proponent of upgrading to the latest and greatest every time something new comes out. However, many enterprises are forced to upgrade because support for a particular version has ended and no more development is expected (Microsoft Windows XP anyone?). With OSS, you can continue development of your own platform for as long as you see fit. Always keep an eye on the new releases though, as new software development techniques sometimes offer huge advances in performance or operation.
4. Shorter timeframes from idea to implementation.
With closed source software you often have to go through procurement procedures because of the cost involved. This is often followed by negotiations further extending the duration.
OSS costs less, and is often free, eliminating the need to go though procurement and thus you are able to quickly implement and test an idea. This helps you be more nimble with changes by avoiding the bureaucracy.
5. It opens up a possible revenue stream.
One quality of OSS is the ability to sell derivative work, either as a product or a service. This can be pretty tricky as it depends on the license that the OSS uses, but it has been done. OSS based on the GNU General Public License (GPL) requires that all derivative works remain as open source; however, OSS based on the Mozilla Public License (MPL) allows you to retain the code of any value-added intellectual property.
Some businesses have been created either using OSS to provide Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) or they’ve learned so much from modifying their own applications that they spun off the technology department into a full-fledged support business providing services for other businesses.