Open source: why licensing costs aren’t everything

In our private lives, we’re already used to using open source programs as inexpensive alternatives to licensed commercial software. It doesn’t matter whether you need a classic Office application for word processing, spreadsheets or presentations, a content management system for a webpage, or virus protection – an open source version is available. No wonder open source programs are becoming ever more important in business environments, but you need to apply different standards to them than to programs you use at home.


Open source DMS? It’s available, but is it a good idea?

Open source versions of tools for document management are also available – and the jury’s still out on how practical they are in application. Of course, the advantages do sound tempting: a large developer community, vendor independence and flexibility, since all codes are transparent and can be customized. Interfaces are designed according to industry standards. And then there’s the real trump card: eliminating licensing costs. Of course, if you want to introduce a DMS, you shouldn’t let yourself be blinded by these arguments. The implementation costs for open source software are clearly relatively inexpensive. Still, smart companies know that if you cut costs in the wrong places, you’ll pay for it later.


Specialists urgently required

Then, of course, you have to customize open source applications for your own needs. They need to communicate with other systems like ERP. Then you add maintenance during normal operations. If there are questions or problems you would, at least in theory, have a huge number of developers available to help deal with them. However, the community won’t provide binding information, and it won’t take care to solve your problem quickly. There’s no customer service involved. Therefore, if you don’t have a software service provider familiar with the open source solution and willing to take over responsibility for its implementation and maintenance, it won’t work. This could greatly weaken the cost-based argument.


Open to criminals too…

But that’s not all: if all source codes are available, cyber criminals could find weaknesses in your system more quickly than you might like. And what would you do then? You can get patches from the community, of course – but will you get them in time? With today’s hacker scene becoming ever more professional, acting in concert all over the world, the security of open source applications seems to be more and more in doubt.


Long term thinking pays off!

So what should you do? First of all, don’t let yourself be blinded, and think past the introduction of your new software. Take lifecycle costs into account and weigh the risks – especially existential risks to your business. If you do all this, you’ll see: open source is a great thing – but it’s not for every type of application or for every company.