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Does the credit crunch represent a silver lining for open source?

If my email inbox is anything to go by, the credit crunch could be just what open source has been waiting for.
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Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributor on

If my email inbox is anything to go by, the credit crunch could be just what open source has been waiting for.

A random selection of quote from the past few days:

"How much effort would it be to switch from MS Office (2003) to Open Office?"

...

"Which Linux 'distro' would you choose as a replacement to Vista Business?"

...

"I have the following setup ... [deleted a load of spec about SOHO hardware/software setup]. Would Ubuntu work for me?"

...

"How long would it take me and my employees to get up to speed on openSUSE?"

It seems that across the board people (home, small office/home office and enterprise) are looking to save dollars, and one area they are focusing on in particular is software.

When it comes to saving money through adopting open source, there are two ends to the savings spectrum - the "nickels and dimes" end and the "big bucks" end.

"Nickels and dimes" savings

Small savings can be found everywhere. Making savings here is simply a matter of looking at the software that you buy/use regularly and spending some time Googling to see if there are any open source alternatives worth checking out.

For example, if you are currently a WinZipuser (I was for years), you might want to check out 7-Zip. There, you just saved a few bucks.

The trick I find is to spend time doing research and then checking to see if the replacement you have in mind is actually up to the task. Most of the time open source software is very good, but there are times when, just as with paid for software, something is a serious letdown.

Tips:

  • Don't skimp on the research! Google is your friend!
  • Don't just pick the first alternative you find. Try to find at least three alternatives.
  • Look for open source projects that are being maintained. Be wary of projects that haven't been updated for a long time.
  • Check to make sure that the software you have planned works for you (for example, opens the files you work with or works with the hardware you have).
  • Make sure that the replacement software does everything you want it to do. Replacing a single application with two or more applications can have an adverse effect on your workflow.

"Big bucks" savings

When you being thinking bigger than just a small application is when the "big bucks" savings really start to kick in. Replacing your commercial Zip tool with an open source alternative might save you a few tens of dollars, but replacing something like your OS or Office suite can save you hundreds of dollars.

Here are some "big bucks" savings ideas:

  • Replacing Windows with a Linux distro
  • Replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office
  • Replacing Photoshop with GIMP

Tips:

  • Now, most readers know that I'm quite a conservative person when it comes to making big changes relating to anything that involves workflow. If you're trying to save money in the short term then remember that as a business you need to still be making money afterwards. Changing OSes on a whim or wiping Office off systems and replacing it with Open Office could mean days of work.
  • Test on non-critical systems. Use virtual machines if physical machines are in short supply.
  • Be realistic as to what you can expect from an open source applications. While GIMP is an alternative to Photoshop, if you are a Photoshop power user then you'd quickly find out that GIMP does not offer everything that Photoshop does.
  • Be careful of imposing change on others. Include those who will actually be using the software in discussions if at all possible (I've found this to be vital in smaller businesses).
  • Put aside time for training. Don't expect people to be able to pick up where they left off.
  • Keep an eye on productivity.

Thoughts? Are you looking to save cash by switching to free software? Do you have any cash-saving tips? How should people approach making the switch to open source? Is this the right time to be making radical changes to software.

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