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Open Sesame: Important Questions to Ask about Open Source Technology

Open Source SoftwareSoftware development has gone public with the introduction of open source technology. In a previous post, I identified investing in open source technology as one way for nonprofits to stretch their technology budgets.  Here I would like to draw your attention to critical issues you should consider determine if open source technology is the appropriate choice for your organization. In a recent article for The Nonprofit Times, Jay Leslie poses the question, “Is open source right for your organization?” He outlines both the pros and cons of nonprofit organizations using open source software. Drawing on Leslie’s insights, I have highlighted some important questions you should ask before moving forward with implementing open source technology. Do you have the in-house expertise to deploy the software? Leslie writes, “Some open source software packages are easy to get started with, but others expect you to have someone technically savvy to get them up and running.” How much customization do you need? Leslie notes, “For organizations looking to build a customized solution on an existing platform of functionality and features, the lack of restrictions on modification also makes open source software attractive.” Are you prepared to incur costs for training? Leslie offers the example of switching from an off-the-shelf operating system like Windows to an open source one like Linux: “Ease of use has also kept Linux from taking a larger market share. Microsoft and Apple both respond to market demand for ‘approachable’ operating systems, and switching an organization to Linux from Windows or OS X could require significant investments in training. Such costs could erase any savings earned by running a ‘free’ operating system.” Do you work collaboratively with other organizations to produce documents? Leslie asserts, “While you may be able to open an extensively formatted Microsoft Word document in OpenOffice or LibreOffice, trying to edit documents collaboratively between the two systems can cause more difficulty. This can be a serious problem if your organization produces documents collaboratively with other organizations that likely use Microsoft Office.” What customer relationship and/or content management systems are you currently using? On the positive side, Leslie notes, “open source CRM and CMS Platform Solutions can be just as friendly as their commercial counterparts. If ease of use of a particular function needs improvement, source code availability means a programmer could help an organization tailor that function to better fit its needs.” On the other hand, he cautions that “while most open source CRMs and CMSs are free to acquire,” nonprofits should “expect implementation costs similar or higher than what you will find among commercial options. You should also factor in ongoing consulting costs for support and maintenance.” To determine if open source is right for your organization, Leslie recommends that you “consider all your criteria, and prioritize them. Weigh your needs against compatibility and interoperability, ease of use, availability of support, and all associated costs.” And as with the evaluation of any technology tool, I would agree with his assertion that you should “make your decision based on how well a given solution fits your needs—not whether that solution is open source.” Original Article: Is Open Source Right For Your Organization
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