Open source vs closed source

I would like you to read this with an open mind. This is apparently quite a sensitive subject for some, for others – a declaration of war. I have been in the software development industry long enough to know that you can’t win an argument no matter which camp you support. I myself am from the closed source camp; therefore, my views may tilt slightly towards Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe and the likes.

So where do we start? Firstly, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

1.    What sort of technical talent do you already employ within the organization?
2.    What platforms are current systems developed on?
3.    Is there a large user base and means of acquiring support for more technical issues?
4.    How much are you willing to spend? *

*Please be aware that both platforms can end up costing the same. This usually refers to technology resources and developers required to customize applications to meet business requirements. This is explained briefly below.

Technology decision makers in general need to consider future prospects, stability, integration with other systems, expandability and cost effectiveness to make an educated decision. Having a strong technical team is directly proportional to the success of your business (duh).  A lot of things are predicated upon the faith you have in your top tech wonks. I put it this way because “wonks” don’t all believe in open source; nor do all believe in MSFT and more mainstream technologies. Tech people are by nature usually egotistical about these sorts of decisions. The main consideration is not necessarily the technical path — but more: do you trust your techies? Because either way you go, you can have the right applications and still fail.

If you work for a large organization, chances are, you already have the talent you need in either platform yet the decision still remains an important one as it affects the issues mentioned above. If you are in a smaller organization or have a clean slate, your decision may be easier to make.

It is also important to mention the challenges you might face when hiring developers for your chosen platform. Closed source developers can be found a dime a dozen and are cost effective resource-wise. The biggest challenge I faced was hiring open source developers. Since I predominantly worked in the web arena, I was looking for skills in LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) and Ruby on rails etc, for an intranet project. That turned out to be a major disaster as open source developers are as abundant as monkeys in the arctic. We had to ditch the whole open source idea and choose .Net and Cold fusion.  As it also concerns cost (cap-ex type cost) differences, perhaps MSFT/Oracle solutions can trend higher but, oftentimes you can sleep better at night because you’re going through a more established corporate track with strong lines of customer support.

No matter how much research you do on this and how many brains you pick, you will always find advantages and disadvantages in both platforms.

Here is a comparison that I broadly agree with.

Feature Opens Source CMS Closed Source
Initial product buy price “free” Licence Price
Subscription “free” Subscription Price
Project Implementation Services Relatively higher cost , sometimes unpredictable because of poor documentation. Lower and predicable
Documentation Fragmented, less than complete, Comprehensive, relatively much easier to use
Out of Box features Extensive but harder to discover Clearly defined and extensive
Training ramp up Longer, needs a research approach Shorter
Deployment time Longer Shorter
Feature Set Extensive range of plug ins and product extensions available from the community in various stages of release Integrated product feature set that is tested within an integrated product development and release structure
Ongoing Support Will need someone with  technical expertise Can be technical free i.e. just used by publishers etc

Response to bugs

Feed into open source community and wait for a response Prescribed ticketing system with escalation procedures
Responsiveness to market needs Community needs to decide whether to do something need then do it. Commercially driven with defined release schedule
Likely To suit Organisation with tighter budget, longer timescale and in-house technical staff who wish to get ‘into’ the CMS Commercial organisation with tighter timescale.
Ease of Use Adequate Very refined and mature

I found this comparison online somewhere and am unable to give the source at the current time. Apologies to the author.

Depending on your requirements, you may go for open source and spend on development resources or closed source and spend on license costs and support level agreements with some cost saving on developers. May the force be with you.