When you buy commercial software, it usually comes bundled with a certain level of support from the software company. Either the license fee covers it, or you may have to pay extra for it.
With open source software, this isn't the case. The support is not packaged with the software itself. Instead, it is often available from:
- third-party providers
- specialist software developers
- paid IT consultants
- open source project sponsors
- community resources
If you are using open source solutions in your business, it is important to know where and how to get the right support.
Free open source support
In many cases, a self-service approach using online community resources and search engines works well. With a bit of effort, you can discover volunteers to answer your questions or find forums dedicated to small businesses where you can access documentation, live support chats, Q&As, etc free of charge.
You can also find well-known IT providers like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and HP offering free open source support, and tools for integrating open source with their own proprietary solutions.
Paid open source support
Many of the larger open source business applications come with the option of paid commercial support. This can be as part of a support contract or an optional extra, or you can even pay-as-you-go for a specialist consultancy.
If you are going to appoint an IT consultant - for implementation, training or ongoing support - look for someone with experience of the specific software package you plan to use. This shouldn't prove too difficult if the package is well known and used. However, if you have chosen a less common application, finding an IT specialist with the right experience can be difficult and costly.
If you use other types of paid software, your usual IT support or supplier may well be able to help you. See how to choose an IT supplier for your business.
Open source training
When using new and unfamiliar software, you should carefully consider your training and support needs. Ask yourself:
- what level of training your employees need to help them use the software
- who will carry out this training
- what will they charge
It's often worth investing in a 'train the trainer' approach with open source tools, building your own internal training skills to keep total costs to a minimum. Some businesses develop their own in-house support and training for open source software because this can be less costly in the long term.