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Open Source for Business: Now More Than Ever, Part 2

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Oct 11, 2007 4:00 AM PT

The use of business-class open source applications in the workplace is on the rise. Price competition and a growing inventory of applications have keenly gained the attention of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), open source developers say.

Open Source for Business: Now More Than Ever, Part 2

In Part 1, LinuxInsider presents a list of some of the hottest open source business applications that business users recommended in our survey. Part 2 continues the discussion of issues facing the open source business applications industry today.

Ultimately, there always has to be a paradigm shift to create an opening for open source to find a home. That's when new products happen. Existing vendors stay complacent, according to Michael Whitehead, CEO of Long Reach, a developer of customer relations management (CRM) software.

"As developers, we saw an awful black hole in business applications due to Microsoft's dominance with Windows API (application programming interface)," Whitehead told LinuxInsider.

Flexibility Over Cost

Some businesses debate the merits of propriety over open source solutions. Others ponder more basic questions such as what will work best for their company. For some, the answer is very basic.

"Linux and open source stuff just works. Microsoft stuff just doesn't. Real Unix solutions are very expensive. Linux applications with support is a cheaper option," Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, told LinuxInsider.

Journyx is an open source application that helps track employee time. Journyx sells to IT shops and consultancies that bill for time. It is available on Linux and as a Software as a Service (SaaS) Web application. It runs on top of many open source tools.

"Though cost is always a factor, flexibility is the No. 1 driver of business open source applications," insisted Finch. "Today's CIOs need as much flexibility as they can get, and most enterprises put a premium on room for in-house modifications, especially integration."

Countless legacy and custom applications along with infrastructure components need to work together. The freedom to modify the source code for integration is a very strong selling point, added Finch.

Proprietary Losing?

While open source business applications are gaining popularity, proprietary products are not yet being elbowed out the sales door. The reason, William Hurley, BMC Software's chief architect of open source strategy, believes is that many business people are more concerned with getting the job done than with who makes the tool.

"People forget that software is software is software. The difference -- and the real value -- is in the community, not the code," Hurley told LinuxInsider.

Traditionally, companies acquiring software for internal use addressed the problem from a resource perspective, he explained. Those with more time than money often selected open source, and those with more money than time went proprietary solutions.

Making Decisions

Often the process of selecting open source over proprietary business applications boils down to three questions. Take, for example, the SMB market.

"Those businesses look at three factors when deciding open source versus commercial. They are: What does it do? What does it cost? What kind of support does it have?" said Whitehead.

The ability to link to commercial products is also very important. Open source feeds the market and integrates easily because the code is available, he explained.

That aspect of the purchasing process is well recognized, agreed Barry Klawans, CTO of Jaspersoft and a member and spokesperson for Open Solutions Alliance.

"Price is part of the formula but not often the key motivation," he told LinuxInsider.

Competition Key

Competition or the lack thereof within the open source community and with proprietary software developers plays a vital role in the acceptance of open source solutions in board rooms. Some killer applications have no match. Some business niches have few choices.

"There is no real competition in open source to a program like SAP. Many smaller products don't have the huge following," said Finch.

On the other hand, there is no lack of good business applications if one is willing to pay for them. However, open source gives a business the ability to build specified features, noted Finch. Still, some small and medium- sized business see a tight squeeze.

"There is a shortage of business-ready applications for the small-business owner who may not be able to afford enterprise solutions like Microsoft Exchange," Jim Connolly, director of software development for financial technology company Kettley, told LinuxInsider.

However, where there is a need, Connolly is sure that innovative programmers will create solutions. He expects the commercial software business will keep up simply because there is a huge pool of private capital available to forward-thinking entrepreneurs.

Blurring the Line

Competition in any industry is a good thing. Competitors are symbiotes, said Hurley.

"Open source projects are driving change in the market and forcing traditional software companies to step up. Traditional software companies are teaching open source communities the value of customer support, a comprehensive approach and scalability," he noted.

Now maturing communities are blurring the line in most industries. Companies are augmenting their applications by combining open source with consulting and support services, Hurley explained.

"People buy the shovel, but they really want the hole. Large vendors have understood for quite some time that the value is not in the code, but in solving the customers' problems," said Hurley.

This is why software developers inundate their customers with solutions rather than software, he added. The finest word processor on earth does no good if the user wants to create a spread sheet, he reasoned.

"It's a simple example, but how many salesmen do you know who'll happily wedge their five-sided peg in your four-sided hole?" Hurley quipped.

Open Source for Business: Now More Than Ever, Part 1

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