A wise man once said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” When it comes to software, some might argue with that statement. After all, we have more free software options today than ever before.
But is it really free?
Yes and no. From a purely monetary standpoint, yes, some software is really free. But generally speaking, with free and open source software, what you save in money, you pay in other areas. Here are a couple of the most common ways we pay for free and open source software:
- Time: You must figure out how to install, configure, and run the software. Since it’s free, no one supports it. You must troubleshoot it yourself when problems arise. Sure, open source software usually has an active user community, but you still must dig for answers and hope someone else in the past had the same issue.
- Capabilities: Free and open source software is not usually as refined as company-backed software. Every now and then, you’ll run across an obvious feature or capability that just isn’t there. What is standard in similar software offerings is completely missing in your free software. Lucky for you, open source software is very customizable, so you can probably add on whatever you need. However, this requires someone with high technical knowledge of that software and, once again, extra time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying free and open source software has no business value. My point is this: Don’t be blinded by the “free” price tag—you’re always paying something, and it’s typically difficult to track. Lost time and capabilities don’t show up in the financial statements, but they impact the bottom line.
Now, some people love the flexibility and customizability of open source, but don’t have the time required to implement it in their business. In these instances, look for vendor-backed software that offers customizable frameworks, such as Open Template Technology (OTT). This gives you the flexibility found in open source, along with the support and capabilities found in company-backed software.