Open source solutions have met with a modicum of success among small and medium sized businesses in Canada – but not in every technology area. Certain applications are a more natural fit.

Here are the top three areas where such software is currently seeing more use, according to one Ontario-based developer and vendor.

  1. Security savings. Jamie Moore, president of Quinte Computer Services Ltd., says firewall applications based on open source are quite popular, simply because a lot of firewall experts out there also have Linux expertise. Plus, any time an organization tries to install something as complex as a firewall, its IT staff must be on top of a number of tough technical issues. They must know exactly what they are trying to protect the organization from, what data is allowed inbound and outbound, and who has permission to see the information behind the firewall. “And in the small to mid-sized marketplace, if you have to rely on somebody to manage the firewall for you, chances are it will be a somewhat expensive proposition,” Moore says. Some people are happy to deal with Linux because they might not have to pay for operating system licences. But there are other potential savings. The number of firewall support company choices may allow them to avoid signing with a company as large as IBM Global Services or one of the heavyweight consulting firms. This could mean the difference between paying $75 and $250 an hour for the management of the firewall. “Don’t get me wrong, though. Those do have their place and we have customers that do still deal in that realm because they’re doing things that are a lot more complex, like running extensive wide area networks. But a lot of SMBs don’t have the same extenuating circumstances.”
  2. You’ve got (cheap) mail. Linux and open source software have been used for some time to operate in-house mail servers. This can make financial sense, even compared to prices a lower-end Internet service provider can offer. Moore says his organization runs one, and he has a number of customers moving the same way.
  3. Open season. OpenOffice has been a common choice for many desktop users, although only at certain types of smaller companies. Multinational companies tend to stick closely to Windows-based applications such as Microsoft Office. This is mainly because all of their regions and offices around the world use Office and there must be foolproof compatibility between branches. “It’s not good enough just to be able to say, ‘I can open up your files in OpenOffice.’ You have to maintain all of the presentation capabilities of the software, whether it be PowerPoint or other solutions,” Moore explains. But for the small to mid-sized company with more of a regional focus — or simply the single branch entity — OpenOffice has made inroads. The most complex tasks some of these small customers have might be to open up Excel documents, create spreadsheet and do some word processing. This can certainly be handled internally using open source software.

Jamie Moore is president of Quinte Computer Systems Ltd. in Belleville, Ont., which develops and supports software running on Linux.

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