Open Source Software Selection: the cost of Free

Computer Business Review Italy and Next Value organized the conference “IT Governance: aligning and synchronizing IT with the business“, held in Milan on Tuesday. I was originally supposed to give a speech, entitled “Open Source Software Selection: the cost of free“, but I broke my foot and I couldn’t join the event.

Open source software selection costs are high, as results also from COSPA’s findings: up to 40% of migrations’ support costs, considering both searching for software and searching for documentation costs.

Finding and Selecting open source software is often an underestimate task. Only SourceForge guests about 150.000 different open source projects, and about 18.000 open source projects are mature and stable: eating fish from the open source sea is safe as long as they are not eaten raw.

In the “Finding and Selecting software” chapter The Guide for SMEs reports:

There are three separate steps that should be taken to successfully identify a set of FLOSS packages:

  • identify your requirements
  • search for packages matching your functional requirements
  • select the appropriate package from the list

The first step is an often overlooked activity, but is crucial for a successful adoption;

There are several important web sites that provide information on available software, both in an undifferentiated way (like SourceForge, that mainly acts as a project repository) and through detailed reviews and comparisons with proprietary software.

Forge based sites, like SourceForge, Savannah or gna.

Software announces sites, like FreshMeat or sourcewell.

Lists of software equivalents, like Osalt.

Once a set of potentially useful applications have been found, it is fundamental to evaluate between the various applications. This can be done applying the QSOS methodology [read the guide for a full description of the methodology].

Other useful tools I would mention to manage software selections are: Ohloh, included its new “Compare” function, to know about code, developers, languages and licenses. And also Google trends, to learn about how much is the know an open source product.

Firms offering “horizontal” support (SpikeSource, SourceLabs, OpenLogic Optaros), meaning companies that sell services not related only to a specific package but to a wide range of packages, are just addressing the OSS selection issue. And more will come, I believe.

While Open Source programs are all created equal (from a cost point of view), but some are more equal than others when you need them up and running in your own environment. Buy only fresh fish!

Technorati Tags: oss, open business, commercial open source, spikesource, sourcelabs, openlogic, software selection, cospa