How Open Source Software can Benefit Your Business

Words describing open source development

Open source software is amazing, in my opinion. However, some would strongly disagree. Before I can describe why I believe open source software is amazing, it’s good to begin with an understanding of what it is.

Open source software (OSS) has exposed code for anyone to edit and view. People from around the world can contribute to the program (whatever it may be) and offer suggestions on how to make it better, features to add, etc. Where it gets amazing is that a group of people, usually unpaid, gather around a common cause or problem, and all sacrifice their individual code bases to contribute to the good of the whole.

<aside>This is where open source software starts to sound like communism.</aside>

More or less, OSS is crowd-sourced, crowd-funded, and crowd-managed (to an extent). One individual is always responsible for putting parts of the code together—making sure there are no conflicts. But, whatever the crowd really “gets behind” and focuses on is what is written or programmed. Okay, we are getting a bit off track. Let’s climb out of the rabbit hole.

How does this affect you, a small or medium business? Open source software is not just for nerds who like to code in their free time. In fact, it’s best if it is not just left to the code monkeys. They need you. They need you to test their code in the real world—to put it through its paces, to let them know what other functionality or features you want and need. There are forums and feature request lists, and bug tracking and submission portals for almost all open source projects.

Open source software is almost always free, though you are strongly encouraged to donate to help pay for administrative costs, servers, websites, etc. Also, if you look hard enough, you can usually find whichever kind of software you’re considering purchasing.

Let’s say you are not a power user of Microsoft Office, but you have Office 2003. It’s time to upgrade. Before you spend over $150 per user for your office, you may consider trying an open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. LibreOffice and OpenOffice are two very similar projects that offer a lot of the same functionality as Microsoft’s Office suite. (Disclaimer: Neither LibreOffice nor OpenOffice are recommended for advanced, heavy users of Microsoft’s Office. These programs won’t include certain features to which you may be accustomed. <abbr title=”Your Mileage May Vary”>YMMV</abbr>.) If this open source alternative meets your needs, you may have just saved your business several hundred dollars. Nice!

Many other options and projects are out there. Some others include:

  1. GIMP – open source alternative to Photoshop
  2. Inkscape – open source vector image creation, alternative to Illustrator
  3. phpBB – an open source forum platform
  4. WordPress – open source blogging and website creation
  5. LibreCAD – open source CAD
  6. Lightworks – open source video editor

This is not a definitive list, but more so a starting point for some of the more popular programs you may want to purchase.

What has been your experience? Have you used open source software? What are some other open source alternatives you find most useful? Let us know in the comments!