There are a variety of reasons why an institution, or unit within an institution, might consider open source software for some or all of its computing needs. Perhaps in future this page will be an index linking to pages exploring each of these reason in greater detail. Feel free to edit these and add your own -- RandyMetcalfe 2006-02-12 08:46:11
Higher and further education institutions have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative. They must focus on value for money. For some, open source software will simply be a better proposition financially. However, comparing the potential cost of rival open source and propriety software is non-trivial. Propriety software usually has a licence fee for the use of the software. This can make the initial acquisition cost of the software significantly more expensive than open source software. The cost of software acquisition is often only a small component of the overall cost for software. There are staff costs, training costs, hardware costs, etc. And, since software deployments may have differing replacement cycles, the cost of migrating to the next deployment needs to be factored in. Complexities are such that each institution may experience cost quotient. There is no substitute for doing the hard work of cost analysis.
Open standards are key to successful interoperability. They tend to be more prevalent and better implemented among open source than propriety software. There are a number of positive reasons why this might be the case. There are also some reasons why proprietary software does not necessarily have drivers to promote open standards. For example, propriety software may avoid open stands because of the potential with proprietary standards to lock-in fee-paying users and institutions. Unfortunately open source does not guarantee interoperability or even correct implementations of open standards. What it does guarantee is the institutions' choice of how to mitigate such interoperability issues:
- they can choose to wait for the next version, which may fix the issue and introduce other issues.
- they can get the issue fixed in-house, if they have the skills in-house.
- they can get the issue fixed by a consultant
- they can engage with, or form, a consortium to fix the issue
Both open and proprietary software are typically both customisable in a shallow sense. The interface may be tailored within the bounds given by the programmers. With open source, if an institution needs the software customised in ways not thought of by the programmers, they can have the program changed, either in-house or by a third party. Unlike bug fixes, local tailoring and customisation is typically not released back to the open source project because it is not of generic use.
no constraint on use patterns
Proprietary software typically charges in steps. For example, the first 500 users might cost x thousand pounds per year, and every hundred users above that adds a further increment. It does not matter whether the software is used 8 hours a day 46 weeks a year or one hour every second week during term. Open source software has no constraint on use patterns. Because each copy of the software may be freely redistributed at will, an institutions may add 1000 new users tomorrow and not be concerned about a step change in the licence fee.
lack of surprises
Open source licences are free and perpetual, so a licence fee increase cannot happen. There is no vendor to go bankrupt, get taken over or discontinue the system and leave institutions in the lurch. These factors considerably decrease the chances of unwelcome surprises in the future.
Open source removes the commercial imperative to compete, enabling genuine cooperation between developers and institutions, among developers and between projects.