WEIGHING THE PROS AND CONS OF OPEN-SOURCE BUSINESS SOFTWARE

The growing popularity of open-source software has opened up new possibilities for organizations searching for affordable and customizable software to help run their business and drive innovation.  The explosion of open-source solutions has spread to the enterprise, with more and more of our clients asking us our opinion on emerging open-source ERP and CRM systems.  There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of open-source or closed-source solutions.  As with any question involving so many complex variables, the only blanket answer is “it depends” but we’ll try to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the pros and cons of open-source business solutions in this post.

The underlying difference between the two categories is a differing philosophy of software development.  Open-source is an approach to technology that “crowdsources” development.  The development and popularization of open-source technologies originated because vendors, developers, and users realized that, working together, they could create technology that was as good as, or better than, the proprietary applications offered by large software providers.

Pros of Open-Source Software

Lower Upfront Costs

There is no (or very little) software licensing costs associated with open-source solutions.  Community open-source solutions are usually free to download or run as live media.  Even Consumer Open-Source Software (COSS) usually has a free trial period.

Flexibility

Open-source solutions are, by nature, infinitely flexible.  This allows organizations to mold them to meet specific business requirements.

Free Community Support

Many open-source solutions are supported by vibrant communities of users and developers available to answer questions and give advice.  Support can include documentation, forums, wikis, newsgroups, and live chat.

Avoid Vendor Lock-In

Open-source options minimize an organizations reliance on a single vendor or group for continued improvements, maintenance, and/or support.

Cons of Open-Source Software

Increased Business Risk

As open-source solutions adoption increases, we’re seeing more financially stable open-source software vendors.  However, they’re still fairly few and far between.  It’s fair to question the longevity of certain vendors based on their relative immaturity.  Although great products may come from smaller, more agile companies, there is a significantly higher risk that they won’t be there to support your business critical solutions when you need them most.

Less Qualified Support

Free community-based support is not always the fastest or most efficient support.  Larger, closed-source software vendors often offer top-tier support packages or have authorized support partners available to provide prompt and detailed attention.

Lack of Proprietary Engineering

One of the major benefits of proprietary or closed-source software is the specific engineering that aligns with their organizational goals.  For example, research and development teams focused on a specific product can support less downtime, reduce failure rates, and increase ease of use.

Usability

Open-source systems are typically complex packages created by and for software developers/programmers.  The open-source market isn’t aimed at unskilled end-users, and so less time is spent on user interface and user experience as much as closed-source packages.  Organizations with nontechnical users may need to dedicate even more time and resources on training their team or creating a more user-friendly UI.  Closed-source solutions have built products specifically to help end-user adoption by providing user-friendly, intuitive interfaces that are ready to go right out of the box.

When to Choose Closed-Source over Open-Source

  • When end users are not software developers – Open source software has a well-deserved reputation for being designed for and by tech-savvy individuals. Its UI/UX is typically not plug-n-play and often requires an expert in your open source product to get your IT staff and end-users up to speed.
  • When you can achieve needed flexibility without unnecessary complexity – with the rise of technologies like API integrations, closed-source solutions can offer an increasing amount of flexibility without complex customizations and alterations to the source code.
  • When you need full driver support – Proprietary hardware drivers are typically developed in cooperation with hardware vendors and thus, they perform better. Open source packages can have missing drivers or use generic ones by default.
  • When the choice is between a small open source vendor and an established closed source vendor – In this case, the risk that the smaller open source project is abandoned or takes a sharp detour and the associated costs is greater than the upfront licensing savings.
  • When the closed source vendor has better support – All other things being equal, quality and longevity of support should be a critical criterion. Cost of support should be secondary.
  • When indemnity matters – For business-critical applications, you will probably want the assurance of performance that an established, closed-source vendor can provide.

At ACC, we almost always recommend the security and flexibility of closed-source, Postmodern ERP solutions like Sage 100 and Acumatica unless the organization is willing to assume a greater level of risk associated with up-and-coming open-source solutions.  As more and more open-source solutions enter the ERP market, we expect to see them to stabilize and become more viable options in the future.

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