Top 5 Reasons Your Small Business Should Utilize Open Source Software
Posted by Timothy Platt on Aug 11, 2017
Why your small business should use Open Source Software
Is your small business leveraging Open Source Software for maximum benefit? That’s what we are going to discuss in this article. We consider open source software to be a great complement to traditionally licensed commercial software for maximizing value and efficiency in the small business. In many cases, it’s also the best way to accomplish something. As a provider, we utilize it to for the cost savings and great capabilities it provides. It helps us serve our customers better. But it can be of direct benefit to your business as well.
What is Open Source software?
Open source software is a computer program that is provided under a free license (no cost) and includes the underlying source code of the program. It’s typically maintained and improved by a network of volunteers from both the programming community, as well as from corporations.
The central part of the equation is that you are free to use the software as you see fit and free to modify it to fit your needs. In some cases, the licensing requires you to share back to the community any source code improvements you make.
Lastly, it’s free as in there are no licensing costs, such as those for Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office suite, etc.
What are some examples of open source software? There are many, but we’ll stick to the basics in this article. We’re going to talk about some of the most popular (and well supported) packages in use: Linux (an Operating System or OS), WordPress (a Content Management System used to build websites), Apache (a web server program), and lastly MySQL (a relational database system).
What’s the benefits of using Open Source software?
What are some of the benefits that small business can derive from open source software? Here’s a few, in no particular order.
- Avoid Software Licensing Costs – Open source software doesn’t require licensing costs. As such, that makes it an alternative to paid programs and systems, such as Microsoft Windows. Of course, there are other considerations besides cost in making the final decision on which software to use – we’ll discuss that further below. You’ll also be free from vendor lock-in. With open source, you aren’t dependent on any one company. Instead, you are dependent on a volunteer community – but if you stick with the proven, popular packages – that community is substantial – and not going away.
- Reliable – The popular packages have withstood the test of time – the bugs have been found – particularly the ones that can cause programs to crash. That’s the benefit of making something widely available, with many volunteer eyes on the source code, and no barriers to fixing problems (and sharing the improved code back to the community.)
- Secure – All software can have security issues – but with freely available source code, and many, many people using it – the security issues are more likely to be found (the code is in plain sight), and fixed.
- Efficient (from a resource perspective) – Many open source programs are very efficient. Built, maintained, and improved by a community of volunteers means the best practices and good ideas bubble to the top. In many cases, open source provides what you need, with the minimum use of resources.
- A way to give back – The spirit of volunteerism, community, and collaboration is manifested by open source. When you use open source and provide feedback and improvements – you are making the world a better place. While contributing to the source code isn’t necessarily a possibility for most small businesses, you certainly can help find bugs and report them to the developers.
We’ve given a high-level overview of the benefits, let’s get down to specifics. What open source software might be useful to a small business, and what specific benefits can we derive?
Linux – Operating System (OS)
Linux is a server OS that was inspired by Unix, and has been in existence for over 25 years. It powers a lot of the Internet – and much more. Why? Because it’s cost effective, reliable, secure, and makes the most of the computer hardware it’s running on. Do you need a web server, application server, or network file share server? Linux can perform those needs for you. It can also work in concert with Windows servers.
If Linux for servers is great, can we use it on the desktop as well? That’s a trickier question – and generally we don’t recommend Linux for desktop usage (to replace Microsoft Windows or MacOS). The fact of the matter is that most people are familiar with the Windows desktop, and the usability and practicality of it are just plain superior to Linux on the desktop (for small business usage).
WordPress – Content Management System (CMS)
Does your small business need a great website to promote your products and services? WordPress is a great piece of software which you can use. It’s used by thousands, and maybe millions, of users and it’s super easy to use. Every web design firm is knowledgeable about it. Best of all, once they’ve setup your site, it’s very easy for you to maintain by yourself. WordPress is available for both Linux and Windows.
There’s other CMS options including Joomla and Drupal. But we recommend WordPress – because it’s got the feature set needed by 99.9% of small business, the ease of use, and the excellent support available from the development community. It’s also got a huge market of plugins (to extend functionality) and both free and professional designed themes – to make sure your web site looks good.
Apache – Web Server
If you are going to use Linux and WordPress to run a website, you’ll need web server software. And that’s where Apache comes in. Apache is one of the most popular web servers on the Internet – in fact it powers more websites than nearly any other server software. That means it’s battle proven and well tested. The combination of Linux, Apache, and two other technologies known as PHP (a web programming language) and MySQL (a database) are so popular they’ve got their own acronym: LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP).
There’s another open source web server that’s immensely popular – NGINX. It’s got some performance benefits beyond what Apache can do, and it’s very well supported by the community. For a high-volume website, it might make sense to use it.
MySQL – Relational Database
Databases are needed by business for many purposes, and most often to serve as the underlying storage for a particular program (such as WordPress). MySQL is a reliable and free database option that can probably fulfill what you need – at a dramatically reduced TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) when compared to Microsoft SQL Server. It’s been around for years and is used by thousands. As mentioned, MySQL is the “M” in the LAMP acronym.
MySQL isn’t the only free option – PostgreSQL and MariaDB offer similar capabilities and similar benefits.
How to Choose an Open Source Software
What you should use is very dependent on the requirements of your situation. But here’s some general advice:
- Popular – for the small business, we want to use the most popular and time-tested option available. Community support will be better, and feature set will be more complete.
- Licensing Terms – Make sure you are using a package with licensing terms you can live with. Does the license require you to release to the community all improvements you make? Does the license require you to release all your source code if you incorporate it into a product? That’s a particular wrinkle to watch out for.
- Security – Don’t integrate any software package that you don’t have a path for reliable, regular security updates. That’s why we recommend sticking with the popular packages – people are finding the problems, they are being fixed, and the fixes are being distributed.
An active community is required for this.
- Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – License cost isn’t the only factor to consider. Is the solution easy to use and administrate? Can you find the personnel you’ll need? Will your employees know how to use the system? Will it be hard for them to learn? These are all significant factors that can translate into TCO. Make your choice from a holistic viewpoint, not simply on licensing cost. Linux on the desktop isn’t a feasible option for most businesses due to this.
Next Steps on Open Source Software
What can open source software do for your business? We hope we’ve given you some ideas. But turning those ideas into action and reaping the benefits will require technical knowledge. That’s where we can help. We can advise, plan, and implement to ensure you can meet your small business goals. Please reach out if we can be of help to your company.
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