Today’s businesses don’t run without some sort of software. Choosing the right packages and having them rolled out correctly (and staff appropriately trained to use them) is critical to any business you care to name.
The biggest decision businesses must make when it comes to choosing their software is typically “Do I go with open-source software, or should I stick with tried-and-tested commercial software from the big guys?”.
Each option comes with its own benefits and risks, and these must be weighed up before the ultimate decision is made. Doing that properly requires understanding which option aligns best with your business’s needs and goals.
To help you decide, we will take a look at the benefits and risks of open-source business software versus paid business software.
Open-Source Business Software: Embracing Collaboration and Flexibility
The big difference between the two is that open-source software has source code that anyone with an interest and inclination can tinker with.
This is unlike commercial software, which locks its code down and legally forbids anyone from doing anything with it that’s not specifically allowed in its End User License Agreement.
Here are some of the benefits and risks of using open-source software in your business:
- Cost-effectiveness: Money is everything, and saving a few bucks by using open-source software is certainly appealing. And save you will – the cost to license open-source software is considerably lower than commercial software. This is especially attractive as open-source software can often do what its commercial counterparts can, and more.
- Flexibility and Customisation: You are free to tinker with open-source software’s code, giving you incredible flexibility to customise it to your exact requirements.
- Security through Transparency: Because anyone can view the software’s source code, it is continuously being evaluated by a community of highly skilled developers. This level of transparency means issues like security vulnerabilities are spotted and fixed quickly.
- Community Support: Open-source software is supported by a community of developers, who often work together to add improvements, fix bugs, and even develop new features. This community-driven approach can lead to quick updates, timely bug fixes, and enhancements that make the software even better over time.
- Support and Documentation: While it’s great that open-source developers can fiddle with and tweak the code to their hearts’ content, they don’t always provide technical documentation. This can lead to frustrations from businesses that need fast, comprehensive support for their specific issue.
- Integration Complexity: Open-source software being worked on by many different hands can lead to compatibility issues. That means integrating it into your business may require additional technical resources to ensure the integration happens as smoothly as possible.
- Quality Assurance: Another side-effect of having many, many cooks in the kitchen is that the quality between open source projects can vary wildly, from “amazingly brilliant” to “what were they thinking”. Businesses must do their best to assess the reliability and stability of the software they’re considering well before the implementation stage, and this can take time and expertise that they don’t necessarily have.
Examples of open-source business software:
- OpenOffice/LibreOffice: Office productivity software
- Odoo: A business management suite
- Moodle: A learning management system (LMS)
- WordPress: A content management system (CMS)
- GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): Image editing software
Paid Business Software: Ensuring Reliability and Comprehensive Support
When you pay for business software from companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Apple, and their ilk, you’re paying to use the intellectual property that they developed – often at massive cost.
This is why their proprietary software is locked down tightly and cannot legally be tinkered with. You pay for the work already done, the effectiveness and stability, and for it to be maintained and improved by professional, dedicated developers over time.
Here are the key benefits and risks of using paid business software:
- Robust Technical Support: You get dedicated support that responds quickly to your queries and resolves issues according to Service Level Agreements that guarantee a specific level of service delivery.
- Reliability and Stability: Commercial software is tested extremely thoroughly before release, giving you a high degree of confidence that it’ll do what the company promises. It’s also (usually) a lot more stable and secure than comparable open-source alternatives.
- Seamless Integration: There is much less concern over compatibility with existing systems when you choose proprietary software, as it’s designed from the ground up to seamlessly integrate into most business IT environments.
- Comprehensive Feature Sets: Paid business software offers a much wider array of tried-and-tested features that businesses need, making it more likely to meet your general needs.
- Cost Considerations: Paid-for business software can be expensive, as many of your options these days are licensed per user, per month. This is fine for smaller businesses with fewer people but can be quite pricy for larger organisations.
- Vendor Lock-In: When you choose business software from Company X, you could end up locked into that company’s services and solutions. This makes it tough (and costly) to switch to other alternatives if you need to.
- Limited Customisation: You generally can’t customise your paid business software to your liking – you must use it as it comes. If you need a feature that isn’t already present, or you’d like to change how it looks, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Examples of paid business software
- Microsoft 365: Office Productivity Software
- Adobe Creative Suite: Creative Software (photo and video editing, PDF creation, etc.)
- Google Workspace: Office Productivity Software
- Adobe Experience Manager: Customer Relationship Management Software
- LinkedIn Learning: A Learning Experience System (LXP)
Striking the Right Balance
Whether you go for open-source or paid business software will come down to four things:
- What you need it to do;
- What you’re prepared to do to get it to work;
- How much you’re willing to spend; and
- How important immediate support is to you
If you really want to have maximum flexibility, and if you’re not afraid to roll your sleeves up and do some under-the-hood tinkering, open-source is a great option that can potentially satisfy most – if not all – of your business needs.
On the other hand, if you just want business software that works and which comes with professional-level support and SLAs you can set your watch to, you’re much better off with paid software – even if it’s more expensive. The time, effort, and sweat you’ll save could well be worth the additional costs.