I often read Edward Smith's contributions to CMSWire and he does a good job of presenting DAM concepts in a way that is straightforward for non-experts to understand. However, I disagree with a number of the points raised in his recent article, "Open Source DAM Solutions: More Control for Those Who Need It,"  as I believe it misrepresents this category of software license.

First, a disclaimer -- I work for a consulting company that uses open source DAM solutions that originally developed an open source DAM system that has, only recently, been spun-off as an independent business. We still maintain installations for selected clients and, therefore, we continue to have a commercial interest in it.

Open Source Defined

Edward's article does not offer an exact definition of what is meant by "open source" so there is no frame of reference to assess his points. With that in mind, there are two ways to consider open source software:

  1. As a brand/idea
  2. Or, a more precise definition about what you can expect if you use any software product with an open source license.

Taking the first route: in this sense, it means a software market segment composed of multiple vendors who view their support of open source as a positive trait that provides them with a marketing opportunity to acquire users.

They are eager to highlight points of differentiation with their proprietary competitors. Thus, various other elements get appended on to what you need to have to offer in order to be considered "real open source." These might include a free public download, active user community or specific type of development management structure.

While those could be considered desirable features by some, they are not, in themselves, necessary for the product to actually be open source. 

The second approach: You may or may not have needed to pay for a licence to become an authorized user, but the critical point that defines whether or not you have an open source product is if you are permitted unrestricted access to the source code used to create it. To do that, you should not have to pay a premium for the source code element, jump through legal hoops, coerce or threaten the vendor to hand it over. The code is part of the overall package that you were offered when you first decided to use the software.

The second definition appears to be clearer and more factual to me, so that is the one which I will refer to in this article.

Open Source Costs

As established, open source does not mean "free of cost." The article makes this point:

"With open source DAM software, you won’t be paying for licensing, but you will be spending more on consulting and training from internal or external resources."

Based on the definition above, this is premise is wrong, you might still be paying a licence fee for an open source product -- for a right to use it in other words. Also, the second point is unsubstantiated, you may end up paying more or less, for consulting or training.

How much depends on what exactly you require and the vendor's rates or other charging structure. You cannot generalize on pricing with reference to the licence alone since the costs applied depend on each end user's unique requirements and the vendor's individual cost pressures or profit objectives.

Open Source And Custom Development

The article follows up with this:

"Open source software provides a high level of control to companies that have invested in a development team"

I think that might be better phrased as "open source software provides a high level of control to companies that wish to adapt their chosen DAM system." You don't need a development team unless you want to adapt the product using resources you will be responsible for supplying yourself.

In the past, my company has deployed DAM systems for clients where the buying authority was from a non-technical department such as marketing and if customization was needed, we provided it for them. They did not need to organize that themselves. Other than a non-technical requirements specification that we provided for them to sign off, the details of the implementation were all our problems to solve.

If you are willing to pay the price they are asking, any vendor (irrespective of the licence) will usually customize the software for you. The only difference between open and closed source is that with the former you retain the option to handle that customization yourself.

Open Source Comes In All Technological Flavors

Edward says the following in his article:

"… what is your IT department’s operating system preference? An organization that embraces Linux is more likely to succeed with open source than a Windows-only shop because Linux distros and open source DAMs often share the same environments and tool-sets."