Open Source

Assess open source products' solvency for your client's sake

Open source products may disappear during the recession. How will that impact you and your clients? Susan Harkins explains what you should consider.

 In November 2006, The 451 Group published a survey regarding the use of open source software to save money. What the survey revealed is interesting: As you might imagine, cost is the main motivation for turning to open source. However, cost isn't always the primary benefit. Many IT professionals found that reduced dependency on vendors and flexibility were just as important as the money they saved. The continuing success of open source products was easy to predict.

Now we're in the middle of a recession and saving money is more important than ever. Flexibility and dependency are taking a back seat, and the symbiotic relationship that made open source successful could also kill it. Don't let disappearing open source catch you and your clients unaware. Run a quick survey of your own to learn which open source products your clients are using and then check those products for solvency. Consider the following:

  • If an open source product relies only on support income, it might disappear. As budgets shrink, companies will force employees to make do with less. They'll spend less money on support for open source products, which will impact you as well as the developers providing the product.
  • If an open source product relies only on online advertising, it might disappear. It's doubtful that a business model that depends just on online advertising can survive a recession, regardless of the product.

Even a product that's generating income from both support and advertising is at risk, as both streams could dry up quickly. If an open source product suddenly disappears from radar, your clients might lose data; at the very least, transitioning to a new product after the fact will impact your client's productivity. For now, recommend open source products that sell value-added extensions to their core products, at least for critical processes -- these have more staying power.

There are no guarantees, but that's true even with licensed products.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

5 comments
teebes2004
teebes2004

I am not sure if I follow. If support or development of a project ceased, you can still use the software. If a bug is noted the client has a copy of the source and *someone* can attempt a fix. Might be nice to post the fix too. It is not likely that the software 'phones home' like Vista and disables itself. So the client could possibly use it, and if desired migrate to something else in the future at their convenience.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Your argument holds for open source projects that expect to be profitable. But there are many that are purely driven by their user communities. I expect those to have much better staying power, as they have no expectation of profitability.

ssharkins
ssharkins

How about some examples?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

vim, ruby, python, perl, apache, freebsd... Precisely because the products are free, their members have more of an incentive to keep them going when times are tough.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I hope for the best, and I think the large products, like the ones you mentioned. I think any open source that's selling value-added products rather than just selling supporting will have a better chance. Even a short recession won't knock down the standards though -- I don't see that happening.