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The Benefits of Open Source Software– Should Your Business Switch?

I recently rebuilt my desktop PC when an upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 went sideways. Installing Windows from scratch has become nearly academic as long as you’re using modern components. So while the Windows install took less than 30 minutes, the real time consuming part of the exercise started once I began reinstalling my programs.

Whenever I perform full Windows rebuild, I gain a deeper appreciation of open source software that simply installs without pestering me for product keys. I recently purchased the latest version of Microsoft Office, and I couldn’t figure out how to deactivate a license I had used on an older laptop so I could activate it on my newer laptop without a call to support.

So when it came time to install a word processor on the PC my kids use, I decided to install LibreOffice, a popular open source office suite instead of deal with anymore licensing headaches. Like most open source software, LibreOffice is free to download. They do accept donations, but it’s not required, which is typical for most open source products. A few provide support and/or documentation for a fee, but there’s often a vibrant and active community there to assist you at no cost.

Creating a chart in LibreOffice Calc

About three years ago I went to work for a company that has embraced open source software. I was skeptical at first. I mean, could I really get by without Excel or PowerPoint? Although I had used various flavor of Linux, I wasn’t sure what would happen once I began using it full time. But the one change that had me the most concerned was giving up Outlook. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Outlook for nearly a decade. Yet Outlook was like that old baseball glove I spent years pounding with my fist until it felt like an extension of my arm. Outlook is where I spend most of my day, and I worried my productivity would plummet without it.

I came close to submitting a special request to purchase Microsoft Office, but felt I needed to give the open source alternatives a fair shake before asking my boss to make an exception. Moving from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice proved to be a smooth transition. I missed a few of the advanced charting options in Excel, but was otherwise happy.

The real test came when I was told we used the open source Zimbra mail server. I immediately went searching for a desktop mail client with Zimbra support. But after testing a couple, I decided to use their web-based client in Google Chrome. That was three years ago. I’m glad I gave Zimbra a try because it’s quite good.

Moving from commercial to mostly open source software wasn’t without its hiccups. It takes times to learn the ins and outs of new software, even software that’s been around for a long time like LibreOffice or Ubuntu Linux. But I found it wasn’t nearly as disruptive as I had initially imagined. Most of my coworkers had gone through a similar transition and were happy to answer my questions.

The Ubuntu desktop is simple and clean

Without a doubt, open source software is worth a look whether you are an established business or a small business with a tight IT budget. I’ll bet many of your coworkers already use open source software and don’t even know it. For example, a lot of people have used or continue to prefer the Mozilla Firefox browser, which Tripwire Magazine lists as the third most popular open source software ever.

I’ve compiled a list of the seven open source product I use regularly.

  1. LibreOffice – an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. I found it to be more polished and more stable than the popular Open Office. But it doesn’t hurt to give both a try to see which you prefer.
  2. Pidgin – a simple chat client that supports many protocols, including XMPP which is the protocol the popular Jabber chat server supports. Jabber is also open source.
  3. WordPress – the most popular blogging platform on the planet. I’ve run my website on it for nearly a decade. Run by large and small companies alike.
  4. Ubuntu Linux – desktop and server operating systems based on the Linux kernel. Known for their ease of use and wide range of hardware support. If your employees do their work in a web browser, this could be a Godsend due to its stability and reliability.
  5. Gimp – the open source equivalent to Adobe Photoshop without the price tag shock. Comes with a steep learning curve, but is incredibly powerful.
  6. VLC – open source media play software. If you’ve ever run into a media file that won’t play in Windows Media Player, give VLC a shot. It plays nearly anything you can throw at it.
  7. Notepad++– source code editor and Notepad replacement. I had to include my favorite little text editor since I’ve relied on it for so many years.

What open source software products have you found to be indispensable?

Photo credit: Aaron Pruzaniec via Wikimedia

Categories: Business PlanningInformation TechnologyProductivity
Tags: curationIT industrysoftware
Brett Nordquist: Brett spent nearly a decade in various roles at Microsoft and currently runs his own consulting company called Red Mountain Research. Brett attended the University of Utah where he earned a degree in German. When not at his computer, he enjoys spending time with family, cycling, and playing basketball.

View Comments

  • I like the article, to be honest I've seen many posts on newspapers, magazines and even blogs that praises the open-source as it without being put on glory or hell, just neutral

    I'll like to add some other software like Thunderbird (for email), Git (for developers) and maybe replace Notepad++ with Geany/Gedit/Kate (or the text editor of your preference, yours being the Notepad); otherwise I like your choices and those are apps that I use a lot, even if in my workplace they don't want to replace it