Reduce Your Software Costs

Open-source software could be your answer to expensive licensing costs.

Open-source software (OSS) is collaborative software that can be developed, distributed and used by the public. OSS began in the 1980s as part of the “free software” movement but has grown into its own initiative and differs from freeware because it has a set national standard that developers must follow. What makes OSS so unique and beneficial to your organization is that it’s free! Because OSS is free, it avoids stringent copyright rules and regulations. This gives way for the ability of any individual or organization that chooses to follow the guidelines of the Open-Source Initiative to write and distribute open-source software.

The OSS initiative has matured into a force to be reckoned with and now rivals some of the leading software packages available today. Cutting cost from the bottom line is part of every successful company’s portfolio and OSS can easily be leveraged within your organization to achieve this goal.

Many viable OSS options are available for organizations of all sizes, but before you consider OSS, you should understand the benefits and risks.

Get started today by visiting the Web sites of some of the leading OSS available and download their software.

Office Processing Software
Open Office is a software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. The layout and format is very similar to Windows, so retraining employees is usually not a concern. Most Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be converted and opened in Open Office. www.openoffice.org

Web Browsing
Mozilla Firefox is a free browser with tabs, pop-up blocking, themes and extensions. Considered by many to be the world’s best browser. www.mozilla.org

IM – Instant Messaging
Pidgin connects to multiple IM accounts simultaneously in a single app, including AOL IM, MSN and Jabber. www.pidgin.im/

E-mail
Mozilla Thunderbird contains powerful spam filtering, solid interface and all the features you need. www.mozilla.org/products

Database
MySQL is a powerful open-source database. A unique storage-engine architecture allows database professionals to configure the MySQL database server specifically for particular applications, with the end result being amazing performance results. www.mysql.com

OSS Benefits and Risks
The argument between open-source and closed-source advocates (aka proprietary software such as Windows) has been the source of some heated debates within the software community for years, so both sides of the argument should be considered before proceeding with a plan.

One point of conflict is related to economics and well-entrenched methods of sales. An example of this is the traditional use of individual copies and patent royalty payment (licensing) that most software companies adhere to. The very idea of giving something away for nothing has closed-source advocates up in arms. They feel that it eventually will weaken the market as well as the quality of software. This is the fundamental difference between open-source and closed-source. Open-source attempts to buck the traditional system and break the hold or the monopoly that traditional software companies have been able to maintain.

Other closed-source advocates argue the concept of “who is liable” when something goes wrong and “how do we maintain stability” of open-source software? OSS advocates counter this argument by stating that OSS can actually enhance the market by supplying a separate product or service. This is where they feel they can make up for lost revenues, e.g., charging for support and installation services, using a basic OSS as a building block to higher-end products and services such as Open Office, and sharing the development costs.

The last major argument that exists between OSS and closed-source advocates is the issue of software defects and security (which exist in every software package). Open-source advocates believe that because open-source software is open to everyone, all of the defects and security flaws are easily found. Closed-source advocates see this as a risk and argue that open-source makes it easier for hackers to discover and exploit security flaws. Closed-source advocates also argue that there is no financial incentive for a product to be updated or patched. Open-source advocates counter this argument by pointing out that this is indeed a benefit of OSS. OSS actually allows for an update/patch to be more easily detected and fixed. Open-source advocates argue that the incentive to create solid software packages is not always financially driven on the front end, and if a software patch is significant to the user, the user can technically patch the problem themselves using the source code, saving both time and money.

These arguments vary depending on whom you speak to, but what’s interesting to note is that most studies show that open-source software meets all of flaw discover and security requirements of today’s business world. More important, OSS is a proven and cost-effective solution that’s being used within organizations of all sizes in today’s business world.

OSS Business Applications
Adoption and usage of OSS is on the climb in small to large organizations, and there is clear proof of its cost savings and overall value to IT. Organizations use open-source programs to power their back-office needs such as word processing and to enhance security such as virus and spam protection. Typically, companies use open-source for three primary reasons:

  1. Reduce IT costs.
  2. Deliver systems faster.
  3. Make systems more secure.

A majority of U.S. companies are turning to OSS instead of using commercial software packages. In a survey reported in 2008 by CIO magazine, some 87 percent of the 512 companies surveyed were using OSS in some capacity. The survey concluded that companies were “saving millions of dollars on IT by using open-source software” and pointed out that in 2004, OSS saved large companies (with annual revenue over $1 billion) an average of $3.3 million. Medium-sized companies (between $50 million and $1 billion in annual revenue) saved an average $1.1 million. Firms with revenues under $50 million saved an average $520,000. Asked to categorize all the benefits (cost savings and other) from open-source, most companies said they were moderate or major.

To learn more about OSS, tap into some of the additional resources on these Web sites:
www.opensource.org
www.sourceforge.net
www.oss-institute.org

In a nutshell, a plethora of free or low-cost stable software exists that your organization can use to enhance technology within your enterprise and to lower IT costs. The key is finding the software that fits your organizational needs, testing it within your environment, and making the decision to roll with it.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Chris Dominiak Meet the Author
Chris Dominiak, chair of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee, is manager of information services & technologies for Norco, headquartered in Boise, Idaho, and on the Web at www.norco-inc.com.