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FREE ...As in free speech!

I hold a firm conviction that FOSS (Free, Open Source Software) is a much better solution in the long term for almost any business. But first, I'd like to remi d you of a statement the FOSS community has made and has been ignored by many repeatedly: FOSS is free, as in free speech, not as in free beer, meaning it is free and you can also SEE how it works, and in most cases modify it to suit your particular purpose AND redistribute it.

Which means it has a different use and purpose. It is free, yet it can still cost you. Sometimes, it will be quite a hefty budget.

FOSS does not mean there is NO COST associated with it. FOSS means there is no licensing cost to install and use, modify and customize, or even sell it to your customers. Beginning with the time you spend researching, installing, and testing, you will always incur costs. Add the cost of hosting, hiring a development team, ongoing support and customization, and you can get hefty budgets, depending on the goals set.

But overall, FOSS means you can take something awesome and include it in your business, without worying about licensing costs.

For those who don't know FOSS

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is software that the developer has decided to license to the world, allowing anyone to download and distribute, install and use, and modify and extend the way they want. In most cases, good FOSS software gains momentum. It creates a community of supporters and developers who proactively participate in an organized fashion to the continual improvement and development of the software. The most known software is Linux - the operating system running on most Internet data centres worldwide, which makes this excellent Internet possible.

Giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have built their infrastructures entirely or partially on Open Source software, sometimes brought to the market by tiny teams of enthusiasts that decided to solve a problem or replace improper commercial solutions with something much better. The Internet is full of stories about FOSS and its use cases.

What's so good about FOSS

What I find valuable with Open Source is that the entity embracing it can control where they spend the budget. The developer can retain the avenues to generate revenue ethically, which is another beautiful fact about OSS.

But the significant difference between commercial solutions and Open Source is the ongoing costing model, combined with one specific benefit that OSS gives whoever is using it in their business. The ability to modify the software to suit particular needs, as dictated by the business model, and the liberty to make the changes when the budget is available.

Just think about it: with commercial software, customizations are limited by the vendor as it deems what is allowable based on their business model. Should the maker say you cannot add more fields to this data module, you cannot do it. End of discussion. If and when the vendor decides to implement a new feature you so desperately need in your business, it is a matter and a function of their business plan and profitability.

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing; after all, software companies spend a lot of money bringing their software platforms to the market. However, look at this from your perspective: you have to wait every time for the little extra feature and get it only if many others need it. Suppose you uniquely run your business in a way that may give you that additional competitive advantage, and you cannot get the software automation to support it. In that case, you are potentially holding your growth back indeterminately.

What's even better

Additionally, the above comes at an ongoing cost, usually based on the number of users in the business - which means you are penalized for your success. You can say it's "the cost of doing business", but what if it does not have to be?

Let's look at the Open Source scenario: you install the software on a server, configure it for use, and start using it from day one. The only costs in this stage are the infrastructure (hardware costs or monthly fee for a virtual private server). A well-chosen solution will deliver perhaps about 40% to 60% of the functionality you require in your business. Next, you hire an external entity to customize and extend the software (having access to the source code means they can modify it heavily). That's usually your most considerable cost for achieving what you want or need. Next, you can enter into a support and maintenance agreement with the above partner, so your solution is safe and can be further expanded (and free of bugs).

There is no relationship between the growth of your business and the software costs in the above scenario - the fees for infrastructure and software maintenance are fixed costs. The more time passes from when the final customization has been done, the lower your overall costs are for having and using the software. The more users you have in your organization, the lower the cost per user it is.

I Win. You Win. We all Win.

In my books, that's a win. It's a win-win-win situation: not only you reduce your costs and gain a software platform that fully supports your business. You also gained a long term partner who thrives from a business model based on subscriptions (the support and maintenance fees). And, to top it off, if you decide to make all or a part of your customizations Open Source as well, the whole world gains a better solution, so you add to the continuously growing pool of automation for a better world of tomorrow. Not bad.

You could still argue (like many who don't understand how the OSS works) - but how do I know if the software is safe and secure, free of bugs, etc.? I'll tell you in short: there is NO significant difference between commercial and Open Source solutions in that space.

But that's something for another story.

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