Open Source

Never underestimate the amount of open source software available

Jack Wallen is fond of making bold claims. Here, he makes yet one more with regards to the amount of open source software available to meet the needs of business users. Read on and see if you agree with Jack.

Since starting the DIY IT Guy column here on Techrepublic I have found that so many people have severely under-estimated the amount of open source software available. In fact, I would lay claim that the amount of quality open source software far outweighs the amount of quality proprietary software.

That's a bold claim, I know ... but it's one I firmly believe in.

When I was tasked with DIY, I knew how it was going to wind up. Think about it; a blog focused on the DIY crowed with a "cut costs" take on all things IT. Where would you think that would lead? Microsoft? Apple? Proprietary software? Nah ... it lead straight to open source and all it has to offer.

Many of you know I have been dealing with open source for quite some time (over a decade). So I was no slouch to what the open source community had to offer. But what I've discovered took me by surprise. What's that you ask? Simple:

If you need something, more than likely there is an open source solution for it. I know, I know ... I can already hear the naysayers tearing down the claim. But the truth of the matter is, open source is everywhere. And, surprisingly, in the world of business, open source is rampant. You need a CMS? Open source has it. You need HRM tools? Open source has it. You need blogging tools, portal tools, publishing tools, financial tools ... the list goes on and on.

But what really surprises me is the ignorance that seems to be rampant, even among seasoned IT types. No matter what market you work in, no matter how large or how small, you will find a majority of IT pros simply don't realize how much open source software there is out there. And I'm not just talking about X Kill Bill, xterm, or Firefox. I'm talking about really useful, feature-rich, software that can serve anyone from a single user up to an enterprise-class deployment.

Just take a look at Sourceforge, one of the most popular repositories of open source software, and you can search among (as of this writing) 305,169 open source titles. That's a huge number of open source projects. Of course I realize that not all of them are viable business-grade applications. But let's say only five percent of those titles are business-grade ... that still leaves 15,258 titles to choose from. How can anyone argue that number? You could lowball it even more and say only two percent, which still leaves 6,103 titles. We're still looking a a fairly sizable number of software titles that are open source (most of which will also be free of charge.)

Those numbers can not be argued with. Those number tell a tale in direct counterpoint to popular belief. Most all IT support companies or software makers will drop all sorts of FUD on the business and general public firmly stating there is simply not enough software to go open source. To that I call shenanigans. Back in November, 2009 I wrote a blog here on Techrepublic titled, "The Linux Consultant: The Maytag Repairman of the IT World". That blog made another bold statement that the main reason why most IT consultancies and support groups don't deploy Linux more often is the loss of revenue due to the operating system simply not breaking. Even nearly two years later (I can't believe it's been that long) I still hold that claim is true and my findings with the amount of open source software out there helps to validate that claim.

I want to see more people suggesting and deploying open source software. It's not what it used to be and the options available are amazing. In fact, I would challenge anyone to come up with a need that open source can not fill. If you think you have one, post it here and we'll see if we can't continue to refute those claims.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

23 comments
kmhurley
kmhurley

The problem with a lot of products, wonderful as they may be, is that they're out of reach financially. If so, they're not options. I've been in the software industry since Borland (Scotts Valley, CA) 1991. I agree that the solutions that are most likely to work best and fastest cost money. But for the smaller entity or consumer it's about value -- resource investment vs. results. A lot of open source stuff is great value.

tbmay
tbmay

I can point to a lot of projects where the software does a fantastic job of doing what it's meant to do. Most of it is not point and click stuff though, and that turns a lot of people off.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

One niche where I have found Open Source actually far superior to commercial offerings is in the Engineering/Scientific applications arena. In many cases, specialized packages developed for specific classes of problems, by universities or government agencies, are far more comprehensive, easier to use and understand than the "everything for everyone" approach pursued by many commercial developers. It is not even a matter of price. The available documentation is generally far superior, and the ability to examine the source code is critical in understanding the theoretical approach pursued by the developers... Some prime examples: Scilab/Octave/R/Maxima/NIST Dataplot for mathematical analysis. CAELinux for FEA/CFD. Numerous GIS packages for geographical analysis...

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

You know, something that handles both images as well as data. Does medical records, tests, report writing & analysis, integrates inpatient and outpatient records, therapy, billing, complaints, compliments (yes, some people are happy with their care).

HereInOz
HereInOz

I have a client, a small legal firm, and they need a Practice Management System. The only ones we could find which actually did the job were Windows based, and most integrated with Exchange, and only Exchange. They are paying $100 per license per month for this stuff. Love to go Open Source but couldn't find a thing.

tomkinsr
tomkinsr

My experience to date is mixed on quality of OSS. I am still learning how to recognize the better pacakges. Generally, the most active packages at Source Forge have the highest community following, developers and users and this translates to a very good application, The most downloaed at Source Forge seem to lean towards most popular and is generally a stronger indication of a good application. I have found some good things in productivity enhancement, time tracking, ERP, Business Modeling, Mind Mapping, Document creation and Database. There are some real boners as well. If the application that you are looking at, is the foundation of a commercial offering, has community forums supported by the vendor, and is active in new releases and development, then you are more likely to have found a quality product.

ddreibelbies
ddreibelbies

Nothing would please me more than to be able to use open source software in all applications. However, in my opinion, financial software in open source simply is not as full of easy-to-use features as is proprietary software. In addition, reliable tax software does not seem to be available either. These are applications that are very important to my family and I, as we run a small family business.

dogknees
dogknees

There are certainly a lot of projects out there, but many are trying to do the same few dozen things. There are a lot of generic apps/packages/libraries, but little that would assist me in my daily work. For example, something that's an ongoing part of my work is building taxation modelling systems to allow us to look at the detailed tax implications of particular business decisions by our clients. Of course the laws change all the time, so the apps also need constant updates. I've looked fairly carefully and there appear to be exactly zero OS projects that are building this sort of system based on Australian Tax Law. There are a lot of others.

Justin James
Justin James

Quite frankly, I feel that "choice" is overrated. I've been in too many IT situations where there were lots of "acceptable" or "adequate" choices, but none that really met all of the needs. Anyone making IT decisions with price as their #1 concern is making a big mistake. The price of software (or hardware) is only part of the TCO and ROI equations. Things like training, difficulty in implementing, quality of support, and more are all part of it too. I've had too many times where I chose a solution that had $0 license fee (both open source and closed source) and ended up getting burned very badly to know otherwise. J.Ja

spdragoo
spdragoo

But it should be asked *anytime* you're considering software, even if it's a proprietary vs. proprietary decision. After all, there may be technical support inherent with the purchase of proprietary software, but there's usually a limitation on it (either in how long it's available or how much they'll provide to the individual end-users of an enterprise product). Sure, you can probably find the FAQ on Microsoft's website that explains what a particular Outlook error code refers to... but you can bet that if the code even remotely refers to the connection between your PC & the mail server you use, Microsoft's tech support people will tell you to contact your server's IT department. I think sometimes that's one of the biggest failings of corporations when it comes to IT. They're wary of incorporating open-source software because it tends to increase the amount of time their IT personnel will need to devote to tech support, not because the software is "buggier" than proprietary software, but because the IT personnel will have to spend time (& therefore money) familiarizing themselves with the software to a level that will enable them to provide in-house support -- yet forget that those same personnel already have a certain level of in-house tech support they'll be expected to provide on the *proprietary* software.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I don't think the question is really about how many Open Source applications are out there. The real question any time you consider open vs proprietary is "Does it adequately fill my needs?"

tomkinsr
tomkinsr

I agree. There are some really interesting licenses and business models behind many of these Open Source applications. I use some of this stuff today.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Your flat out finding something that does that part way decedently in the Paid For system where the Doctors collaborate with the developers. When the developers are working blind or with only 1 doctor you have no hope. ;) Col

peddupavan
peddupavan

I am ready to develop an open source legal practice management software, if you can give me the requirements.. :-) peddupavan at gmail

n.gurr
n.gurr

Generally you get a specific benefit with proprietary software which is expectation. Very rarely does commercial software of any repute (if this is quite the correct word?) have huge gotchas. Sure some bits do, but rarely. I have to admit that this also goes for the bigger open projects too. What normally gets me is small software companies which employ or are founded by someone with no development knowledge. It is always the one man and a dog shows which cause the problems. My rule of thumb, good reviews, good repetition and preferably a great big corporation behind it - especially if it is systems critical as it costs too much to get this wrong.

tbmay
tbmay

9/10ths of the stuff you find on sourceforge isn't ready for primetime and never will be. Now by many people's standards, some software I consider great at serving it's purpose, stinks, because it's manipulated on a command line instead of a gui. These folks don't know what they're talking about. But when you find something that just will not do what it's supposed to...the stuff that consistently breaks one thing to fix another...this is not enterprise grade software. Heck, it's not even Mom and Pop grade.

$ed1966
$ed1966

i agree to the this question because it must be said that many small open source projects at sourceforge are dead or not maintained any more do to lack of support from the maker or designer. often the forum boards are not even in use. Of course the most projects are perfectly maintained and support is available. From all the software that I'm using is about 90% open source or freeware software and i must say it works perfectly well, but there are a few that have trouble with support and the makers doesn't even reply on questions anymore. My conclusion: if there is little or no support for an open source program you have to be able to figure out problems yourself or elsewhere on the internet. if you can fine, but if you can't look elsewhere for another program

SKDTech
SKDTech

Open source does not guarantee that software is usable by an enterprise, Or the licensing may be incompatible with other software they use or produce. There are legal ramifications to consider as well when choosing the software your company uses, not that the proprietary vendors help much. Then too, not every large company has its own development staff that can pick up the slack if a chosen Open Source package ceases to be supported or developed. I have nothing against Open Source and have several go-to tools but often as not I get a better quality experience from a proprietary vendor for my daily needs.

Jabo5360
Jabo5360

True but the two major things that can take the sting of of TCO & ROI are a Linux OS and Open Office (Libre Office) more than sufficiently stable, supported and more secure than Windows. Plus there are dozen of other titles that most business could use instead of a proprietary software. Sure for some thing it may not be avoidable but for the most part Open Source and (often free) are a viable option for a good share of business related software. I have and will continue to move as many of my clients into that area. I get a happier client in the end. They saved a boatload in licensing fees, there OS rarely if ever crashes, no more blue screens of death, their systems boot quicker and run faster as well as the casual worker can not tinker with the OS, install updates and generally mess up the system without the admin password.

cwarner7_11
cwarner7_11

How could you omit GnuCash from your list of Open Source financial software? I started using it years ago when Peachtree (remember them) wanted several hundred dollars to upgrade for newer Windows versions...And have never had a crash or lost data...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Just an observation I had with Adobe CS5 a while ago. I rang up with a customers system wanting to confirm a Product Key. 3 weeks latter after I had returned the system they rang back with the solution. By that time the system had been returned a long time and it was the owners problem not mine to deal with. ;) Col

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