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Open Source Software Benefit and Risks A Brief Overview

May 18, 2008

Benefits and Risks of Open Source Software

It’s Open but It’s Not Really Free
Open source provides savings opportunities in some areas. However, open source is not something radically new or different. It is really a licensing model that doesn’t require upfront license fees. Other TCO components such as maintenance and support are still present. IT managers must perform a complete TCO analysis before adopting OSS
Points that Matter when choosing Open Source Software
1. Should I start with an OSS enterprise application? Companies that have never used open source probably should not try it for the first time with an enterprise application. Examples of areas to start building open source experience before embarking on a major enterprise applications project include project management software (e.g. Open Workbench), an application server (e.g. JBoss), and databases (e.g. MySQL).
2. Assess economic viability of OSS. Perform a preliminary high level TCO analysis to compare the economics of OSS versus proprietary software. To conduct this analysis, employ a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) estimate to see if there is in-fact savings.
3. Determine if OSS is appropriate for the enterprise. To determine if open source is a good fit for the enterprise, use an Open Source Enterprise Applications Assessment tool, which consists of your requirements and the OSS and Private tools available.
4. OSS requires extensive due diligence and preparation. If the open source model is appropriate for the situation, the IT manager should add the OSS application to the list of candidates, and perform a detailed vendor selection exercise. If the OSS meets the enterprises requirements, the IT manager must properly prepare the enterprise for open source before proceeding with the implementation. Upcoming premium notes will discuss licensing, planning, solution selection, and implementation aspects of OSS.


  • Easy entry and low acquisition costs. The community approach can help reduce maintenance and support costs too. These factors lead to TCO reductions.
  • The availability of the source code provides flexibility and avoids vendor lock-in.
  • The software code can be easily modified to better respond to niche needs.
  • Faster and cheaper development when a large community is working on enhancing the product.
  • The ability to hand product customizations and extensions back to the community to let them build on them.
  • Companies no longer have to start from scratch when developing a product. OSS often provides a third alternative to the build vs. buy decision.
  • The enterprise can try the software and use it for free before widespread adoption.


  • Lack of structured documentation and product roadmap can make the implementation, maintenance, and support activities more difficult.
  • The flexibility of the model is a positive characteristic, but it can be a negative one in that it can result in too much customization.
  • OSS enterprise applications tend to have limited business process templates and less mature process consulting services.
  • The software selection and procurement processes are longer and more challenging since usually there is limited or no pre-sales support (e.g. no product demos, no RFP process).
  • The community approach to maintain the OSS application may create intellectual property and legal issues (e.g. the software may violate a patent, the company may be obligated to give some critical modifications back to the community).
  • Long-term product viability can be compromised since there is no roadmap and the product is maintained by a volunteer community that may stop working in the project.
  • The openness of OSS exposes adopters to security issues (e.g. viruses) and poor development practices from some community participants.
  • There isnt a central authority that formally regulates OSS.
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