Seven Reasons to Use Open Source

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 12, 2014

The hits keep coming as yesterday CIO published an article detailing seven reasons not to use open source. It would be easy to list, line by line, exactly where the author was wrong, but doing so would be very similar behavior to what I was talking about a few days ago, when I advocated for taking the high road when it came to online flame wars. So, instead, I'm going to focus on seven reasons you should use open source software in your business.

1. Maintaining Control

When you purchase a proprietary software package, you are giving control over that portion of your business to a third-party. That third party doesn't have your best interests at heart, they have their own. Your interests and their interests may line up for a period of time, but that may not always be the case. The more important the business process is that the software is enabling, the more important it is that the business maintains control.

2. Building Internal Skills

Open source software can have a learning curve, but that is not always the case. In fact, administrators and users alike may find that the open source version of a product is both easier to use and easier to manage, as is the case with Liferay. However, even when it does come with a learning curve, those skills that the company is building are internal skills that they get to keep. Those skills ultimately make the company stronger, and more able to take on new challenges themselves, as opposed to outsourcing yet another business process.

3. Flexibility

When you give control over a business process to a third party, you lose a certain amount of flexibility. As an extreme example, a place I worked once used a proprietary load balancer that was loaded on a Linux server. Every time the server was patched, we had to contact the company and request a new build of the load balancer software, and then wait a week or so while they recompiled. If we had been using an open source solution, that problem would never have come up. Licensing restrictions are also one of the biggest sources of inflexibility in IT infrastructure. For example, it is not uncommon to buy a server with 32 CPU cores, only to have to shut down half of them in the BIOS because the software running on the server was only licensed for 16.

4. Community

If there is one thing the open source community does well it is share information. Have a problem with that Apache server? Chances are 10,000 other people have had that same problem, and have posted half a dozen solutions for fixing it. MySQL? Same deal. Proprietary software often requires a license agreement just to view their forums, which may or may not have the answers you are looking for. The more widespread the software is that you are using, the more likely it is that all the answers you need will be available for free on the Internet.

5. Attracting Talent

Using closed source, proprietary software that has limited use outside of a very specific, and very niche audience considerably narrows the available talent pool. When you are looking for an expert, it will be much easier to find one when you are looking in a field that has widespread adoption. Also, open source talent is hot, and college graduates know it, they will already be teaching themselves the skills that you need, and be looking for you.

6. Proven Reliability

One of the best explanations for why it makes good sense to choose an open source enterprise products that I've heard came from a coworker of mine. To put it simply, for an open source product to make it to market, and to have positive reviews from the community it serves, it can't be bad. If it was junk, it would never make it. Not so with proprietary software, we've been part of the high paying beta software testers for certain big name software companies for long enough to know that the software they ship is full of bugs, we just can't see them till we are in production.

7. Investing In Yourself

When you buy enterprise software from a proprietary vendor, you are investing, possibly heavily, in that other company. If you were to take that same amount of money and put it towards educating your employees and building your own open source solutions, you would reap far more benefits down the road from that experience. That benefit is hard to quantify because it exists both now, and at some point in the future. You might not notice at first that there are fewer help desk tickets, or that issues with the online presence are fixed faster this week than last week, but the rewards are very real.

In short, open source may not always be the easiest route (although that is rapidly changing), but when considering the importance of software to your business, it makes sense to have as much control over your systems as possible. That level of control is simply not possible with proprietary software.