Open source software may benefit many businesses, however it can also pose several significant challenges – from unexpected costs and steep learning curve to complex compatibility issues.
The main disadvantages of open source software relate to:
1. Difficulty of use - Some open source applications may be tricky to set up and use. Others may lack user-friendly interfaces or features that your staff may be familiar with. This can affect productivity and put off your staff from adopting or using the programs with ease.
2. Compatibility issues - Many types of proprietary hardware need specialised drivers to run open source programs, which are often only available from the equipment manufacturer. This can potentially add to the cost of your project. Even if an open source driver exists, it may not work with your software as well as the proprietary driver.
3. Liabilities and warranties - With proprietary software, the developer usually provides indemnification and warranty as part of a standard licence agreement. This is because they have full control and copyright over the product and its underlying code. Conventional open source software licences typically contain only limited warranty and no liability or infringement indemnity protection.
4. Hidden costs - Software that is free up-front but later costs money to run can be a major burden, especially if you haven't considered these hidden costs from the outset.
See also advantages of open source software.
Open source software costs
When you're considering using free or open source software, it is important to think through the potential costs involved in:
- Setting up - eg you may need new hardware to use the software.
- Installation - eg you may need to pay someone to install and configure the system for you.
- Training - eg your staff may not be familiar with some or all of the features of the software and may need some support and training.
- Importing data - eg if you are replacing an existing system, you will likely have to migrate, extract or reload your data.
- Integrating with existing systems - eg your payroll software, customer databases, etc.
- Customising the software - eg you may need to modify some or all of it to meet your specific needs. This will likely require time and effort.
- Maintenance - costs may accrue with the need to update the software, apply patches, test and deploy new versions.
- Support - since most free software comes without a support package, you will likely need to find and pay for third-party support services. See how to find support for open source solutions.
These costs considerations are just as true for proprietary software as they are for open source. You should take time to assess the total cost of ownership for any software you intend to use.
Remember that open source doesn't have to be all or nothing. There is no reason why you couldn’t run a proprietary operating system in your business and use open source software alongside it. Find examples of popular open source products and types.