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Scaled Solutions is committed to the use of Open Source software. We believe in the immense value it can provide to small and medium organizations in terms of both features and costs.

So what is open source software and why should you care?

What is Open Source

You use a wide variety of open source software daily without knowing it. When you visit a website it is most likely being delivered by the Apache web server. Your favorite blogs are most likely built on top of the popular Wordpress platform which is in turn built on the open source development language PHP.

At its heart, Open Source is about freedom. Freedom to use, modify and redistribute software. Freedom to make the software do what you need it to do without hoping some large corporation will one day include a feature critical to your business. Most importantly, freedom to do what you want with whatever data is stored in the system.

Many closed, propietary systems store your data in a closed, proprietary format. Others store your data in a relatively accessible format, but the way it is stored is deliberately obscured and undocumented. Your data is effectively help hostage making it difficult to access and virtually impossible to move to a competing platform.

Open source software generally uses open, documented formats with fully documented systems that give you the freedom to reuse data in the system, or move to a competing system without additional costs artificially added to the process.

So Who Do I Call For Help?

This is probably the biggest stumbling block to small business use of open source software. Who do you call when there is a problem? How do you get support? How quickly can you get support?

I can only speak anecdotally, but having worked with enterprise software for a number of years, the same questions really do apply to commercial, closed source software as well. It is becoming more common to have very low skilled people on the front line answering phones. Any questions that don't fit the script must be escalated, and you may wait 24 hours or more for tier 2 support. More and more, user communities and Google are becoming the first level of support in many organizations. When is the last time you contacted Microsoft directly when something didn't work in Office?

Open source software takes this concept to the next level. Community forums and email are the most common types of support in the open source community. It isn't unusual to have an answer to your problem in minutes. If you question has been answered sometime in the past, you can often find it in seconds with Google. You are even able to talk directly to developers and contriutors and get solid answers to difficult questions. It isn't unusual to get patches and updates quickly if the problem is severe enough.

If you absolutely have to have commercial support, you can get support contracts from a variety of consultants who would be happy to be there for you. I would suggest giving an open source app a try, test out the response of the community, and find out if it is a good fit for you.

What is the cost?

Another great feature is the cost of open source applications - FREE. Most of the web based applications are available in "Community Editions" at no cost with commercial support and additional features available for a price. This is great for small and medium organizations because you can start with the free version and upgrade to the commercially supported version if/when it makes sense.

If you are a small business, not for profit or membership group, now is a great time to look at Open Source software. You will find many gems that let you take your business to the next level. From accounting and hr management to content management and groupware, open source software lets you access technology that will make you more competitive at a lower cost, and that is a great thing for your business.

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