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One of the best ways to use the few resources you have is to take advantage of open source software.
If you say, "I can't, we have a policy against using open source software", then you should be aware that you probably already use open source software. Are there any Apple Mac computers under your control? Aficio networked printers? Linksys access points? Do you host your website somewhere else? If any of your answers are yes, then you are probably already using open source software. The question isn't if you are already using it, it is if you are actively pursuing it.
Why Open Source?
- Money: money is part of it, but freedom is even more important. Even if you don't exercise that freedom, someone else can and that will make your life easier and better.
- Freedom: you control your own destiny.
- Quality: some of the best-of-breed software out there is open source or has an open source version, so you aren't limiting yourself to unsupported, poorly written software.
- Choice; you get to pick what you want to run, not what some O/S vendor thinks you should.
- Experimentation: you get to play with what you want to try, often on a small system or virtual system, and learn how to configure and use the software without a big investment.
- Rapid deployment: no waiting for vendors, committees, purchasing departments, etc. Download and go!
Always Open Source?
Open source works really well on the "horizontal" problems like the O/S (Linux/BSD), web servers (Apache), and other common services (OpenVPN) for a couple of reasons. For one, the more people that are interested in solving a problem, the more likely they will come together and try and solve the problem with open source. For another, the problem tends to be pretty well contained.
Open source also works very well in custom, one-off, solutions. If you have a completely unique process you want to computerize, it is hard to beat the open source tools that are available now (LAMP+ES: Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, + Eclipse and SVN).
Open source has not always done well with "vertical" solutions (or at least some of the less horizontal solutions) such as software designed for certain specific industries, but that is starting to change with software like SugarCRM for Customer Relationship Management which can be customized extensively.
There are still be certain industries that require the expertise and experience that working with a VAR and their special vertical software (industrial label printing), but even traditionally safe havens for "vendor lock in" are falling to open source software.
Don't Get Left Behind
So open your mind and open your source: you'll be glad you did. Yeah, some open source software is junk, but, with a little effort, you can try it out and toss it without incurring a cost. Shop around, just like you would for locked-in software, and I think you'll be impressed with what is available.
You'll save your organization time and money as well has having the power and control over your operation that you want and need.
Give Something Back
One more thing... If you are using open source software, you need to give something back. Sign up for the primary vendor's support program, if they are funding ongoing development. Write some documentation. Contribute some code. Report a bug. Get involved! Give something back!
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