Yesterday we learnt that the UK government is proposing plans that they will switch from using Microsoft Office to open source products such as OpenOffice. At the moment the price tag on using Microsoft Office in the public sector has been about £200 million since 2010, the benefits of switching is therefore quite obvious.

So today at Liquid11 we have been asking the question, “Should we be following their example and start switching over to open source software today?”

Below are a few factors that we considered and that we think you should consider before making the big decision:

 

Cost

Obviously the cost benefits of using open source software over their paid counterparts are quite obvious. Open source software is free! Isn’t that enough said?

Well we think no, because there is more to cost than just how much you pay for something. How much profit you can make from using a certain type of software should also be factored in and if by using open source software is going to end up costing time, effort and eventually profit then it is going to be more expensive in the long run.

 

Do you know if you need it?

If you are a new start up or if you are moving into a new industry you might not know whether you need a certain type of software or not. In that case open source can definitely be your friend as it isn’t going to cost you anything to try their software and see if it is a good fit for your company. 

On the other hand paid software usually offer free trials. However, these are often very restricted, even to the point where you might not be allowed to save your work unless you buy the full package.

 

Does it do what you need?

There are some excellent open source products on the market today that offer as much if not more than their pricy rivals. But that is not always the case and often whilst you get a bargain with initial cost you are sacrificing essential features to justify that price tag.

In some areas like word processing then chances are that this might not be much of a problem because OpenOffice offers as much as Microsoft Word ever did. But for software like Excel or creative software like Adobe Photoshop, then the free versions aren’t getting the benefit of people who have spent millions (if not billions) improving their products to be the best they can be and offering you all that you could possibly need.

 

Is it reliable?

Open source software is often developed in a public and collaborative manner. Often this means that there is no dedicated staff of developers working on a product as their primary occupation and as such if there are any bugs or issues with open source software then it might be a long time before they are fixed.

This however, is not always the case and as with most things, open source software development teams aren’t all created equal so you are going to get a mix of good products and bad.

 

How often do I need to update?

Technology is moving faster than ever so chances are you are in constant need of updating your software. If that’s the case then open source software which offers free updates and is usually in a continual state of advancement is going to be a big boon over companies that only like to release updated software once a year and they like people to pay for it.

However with more business moving over to the Cloud model where your software is always up to date in return for a monthly cost then maybe this too is no longer exclusive to Open Source Software.

 

Our Conclusion

After knocking it around the office we decided that making this decision is pretty much the same as making any decision; we need to look at it on a case-by-case basis and figure out if the decision is right for us.

There is no clear winner between open source and paid software as there are pros and cons in both columns and surprisingly those pros and cons are interchangeable depending on the product. The designers at Liquid 11 simply couldn’t manage without Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign but at the same time they would happily switch to free open source software alternatives for their web development tools, as there are plenty of good (if not better) alternatives to Adobe Dreamweaver.

The question, therefore, is still an ongoing one but at the Liquid11 offices we couldn’t be happier to hear that the government might actually be doing something to save us money rather than spend it.