Open Source software solutions are over-looked by many people when considering software for their needs. There is a tendency to stick with well-known names or labels. However, scratch the surface of Open Source alternatives and you will find that there is little difference in looks, functionality, feel, quality and robustness when compared against market leaders.
If Open Source solutions are duly considered in equal proportion to the market leaders, not only will you make a more informed decision, you might boost your profits.
The only reason that market leading software is at the top of the pile is because people buy the software. That's a fairly obvious statement, but people do not always buy the market leading software because it is found to be the best software solution. Instead, people tend to go with the flow - just like fashion. So, like it is considered very untrendy to wear certain clothes, the same rule is apparent in the software industry.
Another reason to choose a market leader is to buy into some sort of standard. For example, Microsoft Windows is the de-facto standard for most home and work computers in the World. That standard provides a reliable platform for software manufacturers to develop their solutions to run on. If there were too many operating systems to choose from, the cost of software to run on any one of them would increase because of the development effort needed to tailor the solution to each platform.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that Microsoft offers the best operating system. We can deduce that Microsoft, right from the start, had an excellent business strategy, which ensured that DOS and then Windows was put onto just about every new IBM cloned PC. It is that strategy that has been a major barrier to entry for other very good alternatives, which includes the free Open Source operating system, Linux.
It is a similar story for market leading software programmes too. Aside from Microsoft with its dominance of the Office Suite of applications, there is Sage for accounting or Adobe with PhotoShop. Each has a respectable and free Open Source alternative in the form of OpenOffice, TurboCash and GIMP. Yet, people are seemingly satisfied to pay top dollar for the leaders, almost looking down their noses at the Open Source solutions as being an unworthy opponent.
The reality though, is that Open Source solutions are not only a worthy competitor to their market leading rivals, they are very well supported within their own very strong communities.
Taking GIMP as an example, it is a comprehensive graphics package for creating and manipulating photographic and computer art imagery. When reading through the many debates of how GIMP compares to PhotoShop, it becomes apparent that there is very little between them. It is argued that GIMP is capable of all but top quality magazine or bill-board glossy imagery. Also interesting in the discussions is that many people pirate PhotoShop, mainly due to its high cost, yet use only a small amount of its capacity. Of those who buy it, most do not use all of the features. There is therefore a strong case for using an alternative, freely available and legally licensed tool that will meet the stringent demands of most PhotoShop users.
Continuing with our GIMP example, if people converted from PhotoShop, whether or not they have pirate versions, there would be a shift-change in demand. Adobe would have to eventually cut its costs to be able to sell wider, or it would simply become a hugely expensive niche market supplier for art houses and alike.
We can draw the same findings and conclusions from Microsoft's Office Suite. It is absolutely packed with features for just about any business eventuality. Yet, its users exploit just a fraction of these capabilities in their day-to-day drudgery. So, why would you pay over £400 for something that you will get about £100 of use from? With OpenOffice, you get about 80-90% of the functionality packed into MS Office. Again, most of us will use only a small amount of OpenOffice's capability, but the difference is that it is free. Free to download, free to use and free to change. You even get free upgrades, as and when you want them.
It is high time that education organisations, such as our state schools, started exploiting Open Source solutions. After all, when they put Microsoft, Adobe and other market leading products in front of children, they are paving the way to the future wealth of these organisations. Children will grow to like the brands that they have learned and worked with. Making a step change to freely available Open Source software makes a huge statement in terms of being completely vendor independent. The demands that our schools put on Open Source software providers for continuing improvements and changes will fuel on-going development and a prolonged product life. Most importantly, not only does it reduce the IT cost burden, it provides a major competitor to the current market leaders.
Put 'Open Source' into your favourite search engine and make the change.
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