by May 2, 2011 0 comments

Is it possible to run your business completely on Open Source software? When we put up this simple question on a LinkedIn group of Open Source professionals, we didn’t expect to receive such a flurry of positive responses. More than a hundred members of the group voted vigorously in favor of the same with their logic and experience. Sure it’s a group that’s meant for software professionals working on open source technologies, so one would expect mostly positive responses. But even then, you can’t really take all responses with a pinch of salt, because they’re from business owners who’re giving live examples of how they’re using it. Some of them have been doing it for over a decade. So here, I’ll attempt to present all the logic I received on the subject.

“It’s not about saving a few bucks!”, said one of the members. It’s more about having control in your hands. When you use open source, you’re free to have internal experts who can play around with the source code and innovate. That’s the real value you get, but then it’s valuable if you run a company that requires this kind of constant innovation. Another member gave the example of IT service providers who use an IT platform to offer services to their customers. Such companies need to constantly innovate to provide new services to their customers. Having an open source platform really helps in this case.

“Yes it’s possible, but you don’t really have to”… was the response that many other people gave. That’s because it really depends upon your business needs. One member quoted the example of a bank, which typically has demanding customers, who don’t care what software you’re using so long as you provide good service. So instead of thinking about going for 100% open source, do a mix and match to get the best possible solutions to run your business.

“Don’t use open source software without support”… was another stream of thought that came up. There’s lot of software that’s open source, but not free (like Red Hat Enterprise Linux). Likewise, there’s a lot of free software that’s free and open source (like Fedora), but it’s not meant for business users. Whatever the case may be, use software where you get support, even if it’s open source. Otherwise, who would you hold accountable if your open source and free software fails?

“Move if you really have to”… is a very sane advice indeed. The thought process presented by members here was that greenfield developments are very rare. Chances are that you’re already using some commercial, closed source packages in your organization. Moving over to open source from them requires careful and strategic planning. But if you’re deploying a new application, then you can easily give consideration to a good open source application, if it’s comparable to a closed source one.

“It depends”… was the most common response, which is not surprising because it is always the response to a lot of questions. It’s also usually given by people who don’t have a concrete answer, and we did have quite a few of those responses posted as well. However, there were some valid, logical responses. One such response said that it’s a great option for businesses that develop software or web apps as their primary business model. Such businesses have more tech savvy employees who would be able to run it without any issues. Likewise, open source is an ideal choice at the web server level, but at workstation level, converting existing Windows workstations to Linux is not very practical. Likewise, if you’re a consultancy business where you have to write a lot of reports, and most of your clients use MS Office, then you can’t afford to use an open source office suite like Some people on the forum gave horror stories where they found out at the last minute of a tender submission that they had to submit it as a MS Word document.

“And the key questions to ask are”…When deciding to use open source software in your business, you have to be clear about what you’re getting into. Find out what kind of support is available for the application being deployed. What’s the upgrade path to that app? What sort of a learning curve does it have and how long would it require to train people to use it? How stable is the open source project? Will it be around over the long run? If not, is there a migration path available to another equivalent software?

“We’ve been using it for so many years…” was the response that many people gave, along with examples of the software they were running in their business. We’ve listed out this software in the side bar, so do have a serious look at it. Since so many others are already using it, you have live examples to follow.

“And the discussion continues…” No, this was not a post on the forum to my query, but rather a message from my side that people continue to answer this query on that particular workgroup. If you also have any examples to give on how you’re using open source software in your business, and want to tell the whole world about it, then do write in to us directly and we’ll spread your message!

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