Moving to an Open Source World


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This video segment discusses open source software’s reputation as a cost-saving measure. It points out that upfront fees and ongoing licensing costs can be lower or even zero, but costs elsewhere can be higher. This segment makes clear that an OSS cost model is not necessarily lower, just different.


  • Total cost of ownership
  • sales
  • licensing
  • installation
  • customisation
  • operations
  • updates
  • training

About this video

Karl Beecher
First online
25 December 2018
Online ISBN
Copyright information
© Karl Beecher 2019

Video Transcript

[Audio Begins] [0:00:00]

Karl Beecher: Perhaps the greatest selling point of open source software is its price. So often, hype would have us believe that open source software is automatically a lower cost alternative to proprietary software or even free of charge completely. However, the truth is more complicated, and if you’re going to move from proprietary to open source software, you should familiarize yourself with the whole story. Arguably, it’s not possible to say in general whether proprietary or open source software will cost you less overall. It really depends on your situation. Yes, it’s true that you can obtain open source software free of charge, but you’ll very likely spend more time doing extra things that you didn’t do with proprietary software. So that old adage, time is money, is a good guide here.

When you purchase proprietary software, you typically get more for your money than just the program. Commercial proprietary software vendors often try to make the program as easy to set up as possible. They usually provide good documentation, and they provide additional services like configuration, ongoing updates, training, and so on. All these extras and all that work to make the software not just functional, but convenient are investments made by the vendor. In other words, you’re spending money to save yourself time. If you’re just going to swap proprietary software for open source software, you can’t necessarily count on that convenience and level of support. If you switch to open source software, then some of the work that the proprietary vendor used to do will move over to you. Operating software involves a whole list of activities, which we’ll explore more in a moment. Things like evaluation, installation, configuration, updating, and so on. And all these activities go together to form the total cost of ownership.

If you’re inexperienced at operating software, then naturally using open source software can end up costing you a lot of time. If you’re doing it by yourself on your own time, then your saving money, but for organizations, time is money. That’s why organizations will need a talented IT staff on hand. Partly, that’s important to keep down the time invested in running the software. A good IT staff gets things working and solves problems quickly than a not so good staff, but it’s also important because a deep technical knowledge will be necessary throughout. For example, it might be true for you that management takes charge of phases like procuration and initial evaluation. But in open source software there’s no slick sales and marketing teams to guide you through these initial stages. Evaluating potential software is a highly technical exercise, and consequently it might be best for your IT staff to lead these activities. Any organization that doesn’t have such a staff should consider either getting one, or enlisting third-party support. More on that shortly, but for now, let’s explore this idea of total cost of ownership. Now, it includes too many aspects to list here and not all of them always apply, but some do apply in pretty much all cases. So we’ll look at those and see how they might change when you move to an open source model.

Evaluation. Open source software is often not marketed or sold in the traditional sense. There’s really a sales team who will guide you through things or set up a trial for you. Prospective users need to play with it and familiarize themselves firsthand. In one sense, this is a good thing for your costs. You won’t be entering into a trial contract, which means no trial fees or training costs. It also guarantees that no time limits apply to your initial use of the software, so no rush to make up your mind. But also keep in mind that someone has to perform the evaluation, and they need to technical know-how to make the right decision.

Licensing. There are no licensing fees in the case of open source software, so this is a categorical whim for your bottom line. However, you might have an equivalent to licensing fees. If you contract a third-party to operate your open source software, that equivalent could come in the form of subscription fee s. For example, you might contract someone like RedHat or Suse to provide you with a stable version of Linux, and regular orderly updates, all for a fee.

Installation. This takes time, and you certainly cannot count on open source software being easy to install. Whereas, proprietary solutions enjoy a better reputation in this regard. Again, time is money. Keep in mind whose job it is to do the installing, and that they need to spend time learning and figuring out how to install things.

Configuration and customization. Software often requires some level of adjustment to the user’s needs and environment. For the question of whether open source is a cost saver in this regard, this is a hard one to judge in general. On the one hand, you theoretically have total control over the software, seeing as you have access to the code. You’re thus able to customize any part of it anywhere you want, but you need familiarity with the software, and possibly even programming skill. A proprietary software vendor has that skill and knows their end-product well, but their willingness to customize can vary, not to mention to what extent they might charge for it. Even a small change might involve large fees. Still with the rep program and the IT staff, you could well be saving money here.

Operations. And day to day operation of your software involves many activities, so your costs are complex and context sensitive. This makes it hard to speak generally, but you should think about who is going to operate your software and what they’re going to be doing. Things like backup and disaster recovery, applying updates, and so on are essential tasks that must be handled by people that know what they’re doing. Scaling is an interesting case because adding more capacity incurs more licensing fees in the case of proprietary software, but not with open source software.

Updates. A few interesting things to not here. First of all, open source software almost never forces updates on you, which is sometimes the case with proprietary software. That means you can exercise more control over update schedules when using open source, but again, this gives you more to do, and time is money. And speaking of money, updates of open source software are generally available for free. Newer versions of the program and new code will be publicly available for you to access. And as we’ll learn in a moment, it’s possible to pay a subscription to get access to orderly, easy to use updates. But using open source projects, almost never leaves you in a situation where you must pay to access updates.

Training. This is not specific to open source. You need training with proprietary software too, but keep in mind that you might need to retrain staff to use the new software. And also, some proprietary vendors might include training as part of the complete package. Training would have to become a separate line item with open source software.

So that’s just some of the factors. And all these factors, moving from proprietary to open source gives you more independence, but then you have a choice of what to do with that independence. You could take on the responsibilities yourself, but that can require strong technical skill, especially if you’re seeking to save money. If you don’t have that skill, you could still use open source software, but pay a third-party professional support company to do these jobs for you. Thus, you can keep the advantages of open source software, but at the cost of paying for the support.

So in each segment, I offer some key summary lessons. So how would I summarize the key lessons in this segment. Well, moving to open source software gives you more flexibility, but also more responsibility, thus adding to your time. And remember that possibly time is money. Having a talented and empowered IT support staff is crucial for keeping down costs whether it be in-house or third-party.

In the next segment, we’ll look at licensing and warranty.

[0:08:29] [Audio Ends]