Open Source software allows you to freely use software, usually developed by a group of people and install it on your own servers and modify as needed. Open Source solutions allow you to create new business software systems and business processes to enhance your business, without a paid subscription or per-user pricing.
The most famous open source platform is WordPress.
WordPress is a content management system that allows a blogger or company to create their own websites and blog articles with minimal coding. Today 53% of websites are powered by WordPress and it also has an extensive marketplace where the capabilities can be enhanced – all with usually zero coding and minimal configuration.
Open source software has a number of key benefits:
The first benefit is that open-source software greatly reduces the barrier to entry to install new software and add the capabilities of that software to your business. As long as you have somebody install it (and to be honest with you the ease of installation varies significantly – from completely nonexistent instructions to the usual case of buggy and technically complex installation instructions to – in rare cases – highly documented instructions.)
But, once installed you get software capabilities that is offered by most SaaS platforms but the biggest differences are that you have to pay for your own hosting and servers and you also have limited, if any, support. A great benefit of open source is that you can add as many users as you wish without paying additional fees and you can add as much data as you want as long as your server host supports it.
When comparing open-source software to custom developed solutions, a primary benefit here is that you have a significantly faster implementation time than with custom-developed solution. Most open source solutions require some level of system configuration and set up, but the level of effort to do this is usually measured in days or weeks, versus custom solutions that generally take months to build.
Many companies use open source software in order to create the foundation for other software products or enhance existing open source packages to meet their specific needs.
Another benefit of open source is that you can sometimes get plug-and-play capability. Often times you can purchase a plugin for a very low dollar amount which gives you advanced capability on the platform. For example WordPress has a plug in marketplace that you can download and install code for free that enhances your implementation and adds new capability.
Not Always Free
Sometimes free is not always the best solution because hackers can inject security holes into your software. I tend to use paid plug-ins when I can, unless the plugin is heavily used and endorsed. I look for trusted sources and solutions when installing plugins.
Most open-source software is free, however, it does require some attribution in order to use it and enhance it. There are different levels of open-source licensing but most companies who offer open-source software monetize it with a few different ways:
Support Contracts: Many IT departments require official support channels in order to use a specific technology solution in their environment and open source is no exception. Companies who need support can pay for a packaged plan on an annual basis or can pay for per incident support.
Enterprise Versions: Open source companies occasionally offer enterprise versions of the software with more advanced capabilities, basically enabling you to get a premium version of the software.
Additional Features: Many companies building components on top of the platform and sell those components. As an example, the company that built WordPress also built Woo Commerce which is e-commerce site that installs on top of WordPress.
Generally the code for the open-source is free, however, you generally have to pay for implementation costs for the open-source software or spend massive amounts of time learning to configure and set up your solution.
Free Code Repositories: Code repository such as GitHub allow you to freely download code created by the developer somewhere, however, this code comes with no guarantees. Generally free code repositories are challenging to customize and enhance to work with your custom business process. An advanced level of development skill is needed to support these solutions in general.
How to choose an open source solution
When I am looking for software I will always way the benefits between an open source solution versus a commercial solution. I evaluate a number of different factors before I make decision:
- How easy or hard is it to set up and install?
- How good is the documentation?
- What are comparable solutions and how much are those on a monthly or annual basis?
- When comparing to paid solutions, how much does the price increase if my business scales?
- What are the server hosting requirements for the solution?
- How much information is available in communities or how easy is it to search for answers to common issues?
- Are there marketplaces and plugins that exist on top of the solution that allow me to expand my capabilities?
- How easy or hard is it to find someone to install and support it for me?
As a more technical end user, I generally choose an open source solution when I can because it enables me to quickly add new capability, scales with my business, and can be customized without a monthly or annual fee sucking the life out of my bank account.
Many software companies include open source solutions within their solution, making it very easy to reduce development costs over the long run.