There are a lot of different software products out there. Software that will do anything your organization wants it to do. You can pay just about whatever you want for that software, too. “Open Source” software, if you will, is a big part of the market. Some of the most widely used software on the internet is wholly free. Not only is it “free”, as in speech; it’s also “free”, as in beer.For instance, Apache is the gold standard for HTTP servers. It’s also completely free, thanks to the Apache Foundation. The Berkeley Internet Name Daemon (also known as BIND), is another piece of software that is completely free and maintained by the Internet Software Consortium. Another noteworthy example of free software is the Linux operating system. Though you can pay for a commercial distribution to receive professional support from a vendor, it’s not necessary. You can run the most current versions of Linux out there for free. That’s not to say that the “free as in beer” product is the appropriate choice for your environment. On the contrary, it may not even be the cheapest, whether you’re talking about infrastructure maintenance or implementation difficulty. Jamie Zawinski said it best: "Open Source Software is only free if your time has no value". Accordingly, the following are a few items that you need to consider when you’re making your software decisions.

How Flexible is Your Organization?

There are two primary schools of thought on purchasing enterprise software: # You can buy best of breed (yet another term that should be buried) and change your processes to fit the tool. # You can buy a highly customizable tool and make the tool fit your processes. This is a decision that really has to take into consideration your corporate culture. Do you have the investment in people to permit you to move forward with a heavily customized tool? Remember, you’re still going to have to upgrade this software sometime in the future, so you need to be able to identify what you’ve done to the implementation and migrate it to the new software. If your organization is not ready to make that decision, there is another popular route: buy a well-known and respected solution, and match your processes to your tool. This is often accompanied by a consulting engagement. Often times, it’s discovered that there are many trials and tribulations that are necessary to get the process and tool to work, let alone work well.

Got Confidence?

Open Source conjures up a lot of concerns. Some of those concerns include supportability, standards compliance, frugality, and security (on BOTH sides of the coin). But, in my experience, the single most cited reason for not using open source products would be the fact that there is not a vendor to hold accountable. In fact, in the not so distant past, I worked for an organization that paid someone to implement a mainstream open source product because there was insufficient confidence that we could do it correctly. If you’re having issues, there is a large community knowledgebase available out on the internet for review. The level of community involvement is truly incredible. This community has taken an idea, turned it into code, and made it usable for business. They are driven by a sense of pride in their work, not necessarily a paycheck.

“There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it again!”

Your analysis is going to have to take into consideration your corporate culture. There are a lot of highly supportable, open source products out there. Sometimes, however, they may not work for your organization. Take a bit of time and analyze what you need the product to do for you. Make sure that you’ve identified the vendors and their product differences. And make sure that you’re not selecting a product that is “end of life”. The vast majority of any given project is not going to be in the software itself, but in the project implementation cost. Though the above quote specifically references time, it is no less applicable with any given resource: time, funding, staff. Make sure that your organization takes the time to figure out what they want to do before they implement. It will save your company a lot of money, while saving you and your colleagues an incredible amount of woe.