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7 reasons not to use open source software

Paul Rubens | Feb. 12, 2014
Businesses of all sizes embrace open source software and the benefits it can bring. Sometimes, though, choosing proprietary software makes better business sense. Here are seven scenarios when it pays to pay for your software.

"When that happens, the students will then know the software better and be more productive with it," Mattman says. When the students then move into a business environment, it makes sense for them to continue with the software they are used to.

3. When Proprietary Software Offers Better Support
Business-class support is sometimes available for open source software, either from the company leading the project or a separate third-party. This isn't the case often, though - and that can be a problem, according to Tony Wasserman, professor of software management practice at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Some customers prefer to have someone outside the company to call for product support on a 24/7 basis and are willing to pay for a service level agreement that will provide a timely response," he says. "People often respond very quickly to queries posted on the forum pages of widely-used open source projects, but that's not the same thing as a guaranteed vendor response in response to a toll-free telephone call."

4. When You Want Software as a Service
Cloud software is slightly different than conventional software. As a general rule, you don't get access to the source code, even if the hosted software is built entirely on open source software. That may not make the software proprietary, strictly speaking, but it doesn't give you all the benefits of open source. In that sense, the benefits of using the "pay for what you use" software as a service model may outweigh the disadvantage of not having access to the source code.

5. When Proprietary Software Works Better With Your Hardware
Many types of proprietary hardware require specialized drivers; these are often closed source and available only from the equipment manufacturer. Even when an open source driver exists, it may not be the best choice. "Open source developers may not be able to 'see' the hardware, so the proprietary driver may well work better," Mattman says.

6. When Warranties and Liability Indemnity Matter
Some open source software companies, such as Red Hat, are structured to look like proprietary software vendors. They accordingly offer warranties and liability indemnity for their products, just like proprietary vendors do. "These companies are exactly the same as proprietary software companies, except that they won't take you out to play golf," Wasserman says.

For every Red Hat, though, there are many open source projects that aren't backed by a commercial organization. While you may get warranties and liability from a third-party, in many cases you won't. If that doesn't suit you or your company's software procurement policies, then you're advised to find a proprietary vendor.

7. When You Need a Vendor That Will Stick Around
Yes, there's no guarantee that a commercial software vendor will stick with a product if demand drops to such an extent that it's no longer profitable to develop it. The company itself may even go out of business. But if an open source project is small, there's also a danger that the person behind it may lose interest. If that happens, it may not be easy to find another open source developer to step in.

 

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