One of the most important, but often least understood benefits of using open
source software is that choice is given back to the end user.
A very common
business strategy among hardware and software vendors is to "lock-in" the
end user by making then dependent on a technology that is only available from
a single vendor. Very often, end users loose track of the distinction between
the problem itself, and the solution to the problem, thus creating a perceived
dependence on one particular vendors solutions.
With open source platforms, the same product is available from multiple
vendors, thus avoiding the vendor "lock-in" problem. With multiple vendors
providing the same product, the competition forces prices to be lower, and
service to be higher, both benefiting the end user. Ultimately, the end user
has the choice of where to obtain their software products.
Another common practice is to require support contracts, often available with
few if any options (and price levels). Many vendors are the sole source of
support for their products, thus locking in the end user to additional
ongoing costs. In some cases, even important security related fixes may be
available only to customers that have a current support contract. Even with
a support contract, the end user is not given a guarantee that a problem will
be fixed, or fixed in a timely manner.
With open source, the end user has multiple choices for support and service.
Many vendors offer traditional support contracts, and the end user can choose
between vendors based partly on the support options offered by the vendors.
Support is also available from independent consultants. Because there are no
barriers or expensive training required to be able to use and support open
source platforms, there is a large and growing number of people that can
Unlike traditional closed source products, you also have the choice of
supporting your products internally. With the availability of the source code,
you have the ability to fully investigate problems, and implement fixes and
improvements without being dependent on anyone else. Due to the open and
cooperative nature of open source software, you will be able to find many
mailing lists and websites containing information about the software you are
using, and chances are, someone else has also run into the same problems, and
already developed a solution.
Most software vendors offer a single solution to all problems. They expect
you to define your problem in terms that match their solution. Often times,
this results in less that optimal solutions or implementations. These vendors
want you to believe that all problems can be efficiently solved using their
With open source platforms, there are usually multiple choices for solving
any problem. Developers have discovered that "one size fits all" does not
apply to software solutions, and have create different solutions to better
match different requirements. There is a saying that your software can be
"small, fast or ready sooner, but you only get to pick 2 of the 3". With all
of the choices available in open source software, you can pick the solution
that best matches your priorities.
The license on open source software requires free redistribution of the
software. This eliminates per copy license fees, which can add up
dramatically if a large number of computer are involved.
For example, if a certain piece of software costs $100 per computer system,
and you have 20 computer that need this software, that modestly priced software
now has a total cost of $2000. That same software, if obtained under an open
source license would have a total cost of $100, whether you install it on 20
computers, or 200 computers.
Many companies loose track of how many times they install their software
applications, and often loose track of the licenses that are associated with
these applications. The Business Software
Alliance (BSA), an organization backed by closed source software vendors,
considers this to be software piracy, and is
that are using more copies of software than they own licenses for. The BSA
is enforcing significant fines on companies, whether their use of unlicensed
software is intentional, or accidental.
With the open source model, this situation, and potential liability, is