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Is Open Source the answer to the credit crunch?

Alex Christie

24 October 2008

I was recently purchasing some new laptops when it occurred to me that almost a third of the purchase price related directly to software licensing, in this case Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Office 2007 and anti-virus software. 

Unfortunately computers aren’t much use unless they include an operating system and applications such as word processing utilities and anti-virus software are a mandatory requirement for most business usage scenarios.  Suddenly with a blinding *flash* the words open source came to mind and I found myself considering how I could reduce Tamar’s overall costs and improve ROI using open source software.

One of the key things to note in my previous sentence is that I am interested in overall costs, not just licensing costs.  Saving £100 on licensing fees whilst incurring double that on support costs or lost productivity is not a positive outcome.

There are a number of things to consider when determining if Open Source is right for your organisation, however listed below are my top 4 starting points:

1) Understand any specific software requirements that exist in your organisation
At Tamar we receive client documentation in a variety of formats, however most is in MS Word, MS Excel or PowerPoint.  As such any solution needs to be able to both read and write documents in these formats.  In addition we have graphic designers who require access to Adobe Photoshop which will only run on Mac OS X or Windows.  Likewise our .Net development team utilise Microsoft Visual Studio which will only run on Windows.

2) The switch to Open Source doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach
Deciding to go open source doesn’t mean you have to use all open source software.  It is quite feasible for an organisation to purchase Microsoft Windows licenses, but use an open source word processing package such as OpenOffice. This can deliver the benefits of the Windows operating system whilst still achieving cost savings from the removal of MS Office licensing costs.

3) Determine if your IT support has the necessary skills to maintain your proposed solution

One of the biggest IT costs after hardware and software is usually IT support.  It is important to remember that someone needs to be able to maintain your new solution.  If your organisation is historically a Microsoft shop, you may find that there are limited in house expertise to deal with Open Source software.  This does not mean Open Source is out of the question, merely that it should be implemented in a measured fashion such as point 2 above.

4) What is the impact on your end users
It is important to understand what impact the switch to Open Source software will have on your staff.  A minor change from MS Word to the OpenOffice equivalent will require some basic training, whilst a complete switch from Windows to Linux will require significant retraining.  The costs of training and staff downtime could be extensive and in some cases will outweigh any initial licensing cost savings.

Conclusion
So there you have it.  Although the points above are fairly high level, they should be a good starting point for analysing the suitability of Open Source for your organisation.  Personally I think there is a place for Open Source software to be phased into most organisations and OpenOffice looks like the best starting place to me.

For those who are interested the UK Government actually has an Open Source Policy which is available here.

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