Is Open Source The Right Choice For Your Team?

 Open source can save a lot of time but it does come with some conditions
Open source can save a lot of time but it does come with some conditions
Image Credit: phradaka

I must confess that I have a deep need to create all of my own code. I sorta feel as though if I didn’t write it, then it really should not be part of the final product. However, even I know that this is wrong. It takes a lot of time and more often than not a lot of very smart people to develop good code. Not every company can employ the right people or have the time that it would take to write all of the code that they need to create a final working product. It turns out that there is a solution to this problem: open source software.

Open Source Helps You To Do More

So just exactly what is open source software? To put it simply, a group of programmers have gotten together and because they had a shared need, they have created a piece of software that does something. It could be a database, a GUI framework, or just about anything. However, once they were done, they took things a step further and made the software that they had created freely available to anyone who wants to use it. They are not expecting to get paid and if your IT manager skills tells you that it meets the needs of your team, then you are permitted to get a copy of their software and use it in any way that you see fit.

Your IT manager training should have taught you that using open source software can be a huge time savings for any team. Some teams have estimated that it could have taken them up to 9,000 hours to develop the same functionality that they were able to get for free from an open source software package. That would have taken then 375 days and would have easily cost the company US$500,000 or more. The other issue is that if they had created the code themselves, it would have been proprietary code that only they were using. That means any bugs or flaws in the code would have to have been found by them.

This all leads to one of the biggest advantages of using open source software in addition to its free price. Since the software is freely available, there will generally be a lot of people who have started to use it. This means that if there are any issues with the software, these people have probably already found it and reported it. The people who originally developed the software are often joined by other people who appreciate what they’ve done. Together these people form a community of talented software developers who maintain the software and fix issues even as they add new features. This is very much like commercial software.

Open Source Comes With Some Conditions

Although I think that we can all agree that stumbling across free software that performs some task that your IT team needs to have done is always considered to be good news, there are some issues associated with open source software that you need to be aware of. The first of these has to do with the license that comes with the open source software that you’ll be using. These licenses generally detail issues such as how the open source software can be modified or shared with other people. Under a number of licenses, if you team extends the functionality of the open source software, then you are obligated to share your extensions with the world.

If you start to use a piece of open source software, then you are really signing up to become a member of the community of people who both use and support the software. What this means is that if you find something wrong with the software when you are using it, then you are obligated to not just complain about it. What you need to do is to document it, report what you’ve found, and perhaps even take the time to suggest how best to go about fixing it. If your fix gets accepted by the people who are maintaining the software, then your status will change and you’ll become a contributor. Your speaking up will make maintaining the software just a little bit easier for everyone involved.

You need to understand that you are not dealing with commercially supported software. You don’t have a support contract for your open source software. What this means for you is that if and when you encounter something that is not working the way that you think that it should be, you need to take action. You’ll need to go out onto the web and check the various forums to see if another user has encountered the same problem – generally somebody has. If you are the first, then you’re going to have to ask for some help. Here’s the trick: you need to ask nicely. You are in no position to demand that anyone do anything for you – remember, you don’t have a support contract. The software is being maintained by volunteers so you need to be nice about your request if you want to get any help.

What All Of This Means For You

Developing software is hard work. It can take a long time, require a big team, and end up costing the company a lot of money. However, it turns out that there is a way to speed this process up. If your team chooses to use open source software then you can get a lot of functionality for free. However, as with everything in life, open source software does come with some strings attached.

Open source software comes about when a group of software developers encounter a problem that they decide that they want to solve. They create a piece of software to address the issue that they’ve encountered. Once the software has been created, they offer it to others for free. These people generally stay associated with the software project in order to fix bugs and add new features. This is almost like an IT team building exercise.

If you choose to use open source software you need to be aware of a few issues. Open source software comes with a license that may determine how you can modify and share it. Once you start to use the software, you become part of its community. Finally, you don’t have a paid support contract and so you need to make sure that you ask for help nicely.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If you use open source software, then you do you think that you should tell people who buy your software that you are using open source software?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Despite the arrival of a multitude of different ways for us to communicate with each other via all of the different social media tools that have shown up over the past few years, it turns out that we still use email as the primary way that we communicate in the office. We’ve been doing this for a long time and you’d think that our IT manager skills would have allowed us to become very good at using it. However, if you take a look at a lot of the different emails that each of us receives every day, it’s pretty clear that a lot of us could still use some help in learning how to create better emails.