Take a quick look around SourceForge.net and you’ll see that the open source movement in software development is alive and well. With more than a million registered users and 100,000-plus-projects, this is no flash in the pan. In fact, every enterprise IT decision maker should be constantly evaluating the merits of open source versus proprietary software solutions for critical business needs. A lot is made of the fact that open source software is free, but “freely available” is probably a more accurate expression. It may not cost anything to download a copy of Linux or OpenOffice, for instance, but support from an open source developer is typically minimal and documentation crude and incomplete (if it exists at all). That means that an enterprise adopting an open source solution will be forced to provide an internal support team or hire a third party to provide support, training and software maintenance.

Beyond that, there are the costs of customizing the software to meet particular company objectives. These development efforts can run the gamut from integration with existing systems to the provision of new features or extensions. It may even be necessary to improve or modify the user interface, since many open source products are somewhat lacking in that regard. Just finding UI expertise in the first place is not a trivial matter. All the same, customizing an existing piece of open source software has to be more cost-effective than starting from scratch, which is the way enterprise software was developed for many years. One of the more interesting aspects of open source operating systems and applications software is that there is a closed side too – not closed in terms of availability, but in the sense that there is essentially no “paper trail” when it comes to implementation and deployment. Suppose, for instance, that highly secretive Google had chosen to run Windows on its servers. Through per-seat OS licensing and the nature and source of ensuing support calls, Microsoft would essentially learn a great deal about Google’s IT infrastructure. Given the competitive friction between those two companies, this is hardly a trivial matter.

By choosing open source software, companies can essentially block out prying eyes and ears.

In short, the more open the software, the more secure and customizable it can be through local adaptation. That’s definitely like having your cake and eating it too.

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