Open Source is freedom of choice, not necessarily a cheaper option.


I was speaking to a Windows Support engineer on the phone last week who uses Linux for some aspects of the enterprise needs. He asked me if I use Open Source Software because it is cheaper than the alternatives. I told him no, it's for the freedom of choice.

I have the freedom to install, configure the software and adapt it for my needs. I can also choose to make any modifications available to anyone else by contributing them back. Well, I don't as I'm not a coder, but I can feedback any problems that I have as a bug report, and can ask someone else to code it and get them to contribute their code back.

Admittedly Open Source can be cheaper if you think of the code itself as not costing anything. However nothing is free, time and therefore money will have been spent creating and modifying that code. To have adequate technical support and installation businesses should be prepared to value the product and the support provided. With Open Source you have the freedom of choice. You can choose to look at the online documentation and the wealth of technical books out there to implement what you need, you can also choose to support the Open Source Product. Or you can choose to hire an experienced professional (or even pay for training in-house) to implement and support the product for you. Saying a product is cheaper can be interpreted that the product is somehow lesser than the competition. I do not feel that this is always the case, superior products can develop from close contact between developers and their clients. This is the value add that Open Source can bring to the table.

At the end of the day, whether a product is Open Source or proprietary, any business needs to consider how critical the product is to their business processes and invest in the product accordingly. I've come across excellent installations of Windows Server/Exchange with full shared calendaring and other communication enhancements, but I've also come across some very basic and flaky installations of exchange that just handle the email. It all depends on how it was installed and how good the documentation is. Yes, and experience is also needed to support it.

It's about the experts you hire to install and maintain your business software and information. At the same time businesses also need to consider investing in training. There is always a risk that you may lose the person to another role, but if you don't train your employees then you can restrict yourself to any new starts that tick the technical boxes rather than the people boxes. You can get loyal employees that come back or never leave but any business needs to be prepared to invest in them as people. Not just the training but in building a group dynamic.

Any investment into any new technology needs to be paid for in some way. People have to eat, if you want professional support and someone to take your problems away from you so that you can concentrate on your business then you have to at least pay a bit for that time. Larger support companies like for example a large hosting provider cannot afford to hire someone who knows everything about the client and cares enough to help them. It's not in their business plan, if a business want's technical expertise and hand-holding then it has to be paid for. Most people will not need to contact them either until somethings gone wrong, or a task needs to be carried out. Then be prepared to wait and be charged while you wait to be connected.

If you have an Open Source product that you use and you have the spare cash, consider a donation to that friendly developer who's taking your bug report and improving your product. They will appreciate that effort.

Friendly Technical experts have to eat too you know.