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Build Your Business With Open Source 305

PCM2 writes "InfoWorld this week is running a ten-page guide to building your business entirely with OSS. The guide highlights OSS alternatives for many enterprise applications categories such as CRM, ERP, content management, and so on. It's not exhaustive, but where it skips the obvious categories like databases and Web servers it includes some others that you might not expect."
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Build Your Business With Open Source

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  • "build or buy" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ir0b0t ( 727703 ) * <mjewell@op e n m> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:44AM (#13286108) Homepage Journal
    I've wondered for a *long* time why coders do not prefer a build-it model to servicing mass-produced proprietary code.

    The profession of coding would be stronger as a profession if coders kept the source open and sold time to build individuals what they needed. There is little danger that non-coders will suddenly wean themselves from the need to hire coders just because the source is available.

    Doctors generally don't keep their medical knowledge secret to make money. They share knowledge and concentrate on practicing.
  • vertical market apps (Score:3, Interesting)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <danheskett@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:51AM (#13286158)
    Most business need a line-of-business or vertical market application for day to day use. General purpose apps are great for general purposes, but many many many businesses are based of regional vertical market applications. Stuff like point of sale systems for stores, software for furniture stores to schedule deliveries and inventory, medical billing software which is highly regionalized, software for denists offices, software for small banks, software for warehouse management, software for small movie rental stores, etc. General purpose computing is doing great. But for vertical markets small niche vendors are doing great.
  • by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:59AM (#13286226) Journal
    Almost as confirmation of an 'ask Slashdot' question of mine a while back, there still seems to be a big hole in the area of Employee/Human Resources Management.
  • by MarkEst1973 ( 769601 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:01AM (#13286237)
    ... they wouldn't need this kind of thing. It's kind of like Paul Graham when he mused about his competitors and how it didn't really matter whether they knew he was using Lisp or not because, in the words of Robert Morris: "If they were that smart they'd already be programming in Lisp."

    If a business was smart, they'd already be using open source as a competitive advantage. Google knows about servers and handling load. Your local PHB does not. Your PHB wants to buy Windows Server 2003. Google customized their own Linux distro.

    I know enough to follow the really really smart people, like the ones at Google.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:04AM (#13286262) Journal
    Actually, yes. I was recently (peripherally) involved with a project that is going to use MS SQL as the backend and IIS as the front-end. The reason? They didn't know there were alternatives other than Oracle (which they couldn't afford). Even pointing out the lower TCO and lack of vendor lock-in, they still went with the MS solution because they'd heard of MS, and not of the other projects.

    Not all businesses have competent IT people.

  • Missing items (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:06AM (#13286277) Homepage
    and many times it's specific to what industry you are in but overall Sales and marketing tools are always missing from OSS. Where are tools for customer prospecting? how about tools for industry research off of aggregate databases available for purchase? Let alone a decent 4gl accounting package that exists as OSS.. dont get me wrong, I can buy a closed source real accounting,Inventory,and POS system for linux (no not that newbie crap like quickbooks or peachtree, a REAL accounting system) but there is no OSS stuff available that has a nice set of modules and Open scripting programming language set like 4gl so I can whip up a nice custom shipping module.

    hen we get into the specalized apps, where can I get an OSS program to mine my Scaroborough or Nielsen databases I get sent monthly? How about a Traffic and Billing system for commercial sales in broadcast?

    It's a neat idea, and with crossover office I can run those "special apps" but you can not realistically run your entire business on OSS. your accounting system at a minimum still needs to be a closed source app.. No commercial quality Accounting system exists in a useable state yet.

  • Re:Who is listening? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chibi ( 232518 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:10AM (#13286306) Journal
    My boss for example will not even take a look. He says, M$ products have been doing fine for him for more than a decade and can still do more for another few years.

    Well, you have to consider that there will be costs associated with switching over. There's manpower to actually install and configure the software, and then there's training and learning curve. All for what? To be doing the same stuff you were before. So, it might not be appealing to your boss from that perspective (this is assuming that you guys aren't constantly upgrading MS apps).

    Your best opportunity with your boss might be when contracts/licenses are being renewed, or when you guys need a new application, and an open source solution might work out better.

    Note: Of course, it's entirely possible your boss is just an ass, although the two are probably not mutually exclusive. :)

  • Some other factors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:12AM (#13286314) Journal
    I read the article but if it is mentioned, I missed it; but there are 2 factors which should be considered in the 'build or buy' equation:

    1) Lower risk of orphaned applications. If your vendor goes casters up or is bought out you may find your most useful application(s) unsupported.

    2) I have a real problem with the 'one size fits all' ERP model. Suppose you have a business process which gives you a real advantage over your competitors. If you go with an ERP package which requires you change to the same business processes your competitors use, you just lost an important advantage. There is nothing to differentiate you from the competition (not to mention the fact that all real software should model the business process, not vice versa).

    1) seems to be poorly understood by most PHB's, the thought never seems to come up.

    2) I think this is due to PHB's being trained in an industrial paradigm. A paradigm which says it does not matter, all 'widgets' are the same and so the process should also be the same. Which may be true when building dishwahers and refigerators, but since most of the US economy is now a services economy this does not work in a services based industry. Services should be unique, otherwise you are *only* competing on price, which is insane.

  • Re:CRM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:25AM (#13286411) Homepage
    Yes, but Sugar Open Source is only a watered down version of Sugar Pro, which is not available without a license.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:27AM (#13286426)
    Can't believe SSL-Explorer [] isn't listed. It's probably my favorite OSS solution this year!
  • NO! NO! NO! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:34AM (#13286478)
    Don't do it. You will get into a hell of a mess. The biggest problem you will face is that basic business accounting consists of two parallel threads: cash in and out, and debtors/creditors. Reconciling them is key to producing management accounts, and you cannot do this with spreadsheets. If you have sales tax to deal with as well, it's much worse.
    If you didn't understand the above, then you need to (a) learn basic accounting and (b) shell out for a commercial accounts system such as MYOB. If you do understand it, I will offer a comment. The small business system I have developed has about 1 man year in it, spread over about 100 customers. Is it really worth trying to save yourself a few hunded $$ for that?
  • Re:Fluff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bimo_Dude ( 178966 ) <bimoslash@theness. o r g> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:36AM (#13286490) Homepage Journal
    Ok. I understand now. You do have a point there, as the article seems more geared towards the larger businesses.

    Things like Open Office [], TurboCash [] (Windows only) which includes POS for retail folks. I'm not too sure about tax software. Even closed source tax applications for business are pretty difficult to maintain.

    It would be interesting if somebody were to write an article that included absolutely everything a business could need, from the desktop applications, through database, financial, reporting, tax, web, OS, etc..., maybe categorized by small business, meduim-sized, and enterprise.

  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:38AM (#13286507)

    My boss knows nothing about computers and doesn't care to. Once they allow him to meet his bottom line he will never change a thing. I've learned that whenever I speak to him instead of dicussing details and technical mumbo jumbo I break it down into profit and loss. I explain to him that by moving to a linux based OS server we can reduce our number of servers and downtime, and that the productivity incurred will = profit. Our P200 firewall/vpn/ftp/www servers have been running straight for over a year. While our windows boxen have brought the company to a hault on more than one occasion.
  • by Zarquil ( 187770 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:42AM (#13286534)
    I've been searching for a small shared calendaring option for a while.

    I'm not looking for a full-blown groupware suite - our email is done off-site by our ISP. I only need something I can tie everyone's calendar's together with - I want it small and focused on just a single task.

    Boss is married to Outhouse, one guy has a Mac, I'm using Sunbird (although I'll adapt if I *have* to), so we have to tie in a bunch of platforms.

    My current leanings are to Kolab with the Toltec connector (Note to OS naysayers: I'm not averse to spending money here! I would prefer Open Source.)

    I'm reading TFA in the hopes of finding something - but I've seen nothing on a quick scan through it. Any other tips I could be following up on?
  • by La Gris ( 531858 ) <lea@gris.noiraude@net> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:44AM (#13286555) Homepage
    Open source or Closed source have nothing to do with operating software and engaging responsability on installation and services.

    Imagine you run a wood factory and need accouning software and stock application.

    Your domain is wood, not IT. So you Hire someone or you buy service to an IT company to provide you with proper software that feets your computing needs.

    Wether the provided software is open source or closed source is not your business. You just like it to do the intended work. If something's wrong you tunr back to the entity who can fix it: the IT company that sold you the installed and operationnal system and support service.

    Open source risk is a non question for the final user.

    Open source is all about source and none about providing installed binaries for an operationnal application.
  • A few tips... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saggi ( 462624 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:56AM (#13286660) Homepage
    The article provide a very good set of entries for those who wish to use (on not) open source.

    I have quite a few times (I work as an IT Consultant) met clients who did use open source. I my opinion there was some base indicators when it was useful:

    You'll need in-house support.
    For those who wish to use open source in the desktop environment, it usually requires some in-house supporters. Most employees are use to MS Windows from home and can therefore more easily engage with a windows environment. But after a learning period, it's possible to switch entirely to OS.

    If anyone tries to switch their software to OS without the in-house support will often fail... but a lot of companies out there already has an in-house support team in place to help with daily routines (printers, new mousse etc...)

    So a good rule is; if it's possible to "upgrade" your in-house support team to OS, you may "upgrade" the company desktop environment. (Do expect the cost of a learning period, compared to license savings).

    Servers are often very expensive, but the operational users are usually less than the full range of desktop users in the companies. Therefore it's often more easy to switch servers, and use OS.

    It still requires some fairly good administrators, but that issue goes for commercial products as well.

    As most commercial server software is fairly expensive, good savings can be made here.

    But check out for various issues. The basic stuff like mySql is much easier to hack than MSSql. (I know as I have been working with security on several projects). This is often not due to the product limitations, but the lack of knowledge by the administrators and developers using these platforms.

    Sadly I have often seen sites that allow for SQL-insertions. In an MSSql environment, you just dictate the use of stored procedures, and your safe...

    Other stuff
    There are some other parameters any company needs to consider, but they are often not as general as the two above. Basically it all comes down to a simple return of investment calculation: Is the expenses in regards to OS, less than the licenses?

    My own site uses OS (see link above). Why not? In my spare time I can be nerdish enough to play around, and here the OS world have it all... the only other option was to use pirate copies. So in a sense the really smart consultants and developers are forced to train and us OS. (Oh, yes I do have access to MSDN, but that's an other story).
  • OpenConnector.Org (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kunta Kinte ( 323399 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:02PM (#13286709) Journal
    We're working on it at OpenConnector.Org []

    But help is always needed. The code is still in alpha, though I'd like to release the first public Beta in November, in time for the projects 3 year aniversary.

    Problem is that this is not a simple piece of software; there's a reason it hasn't been done. Very few people understand MAPI, and those who do, understablely want to get paid for doing it.

    We need people experienced in MAPI, funds to offset coding time, etc.

  • I am (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:10PM (#13286779)
    Actually, I'm one business owner who's a geek and who does pay attention. I can tell you from my point of view (small company... ~5 employees, growing quickly), the *vast* majority of the OSS offerings out there are embarassing when compared to what's already out there are regular proprietary software. I'd *love* to make the leap, but the quality and functionality of most of the things I've seen is laughable, really. About all we use is VNC, and while it's a great program, what we use it for isn't mission critical by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Re:"build or buy" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HeyLaughingBoy ( 182206 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:17PM (#13286830)
    time to build individuals what they needed

    The coders may prefer it, but the market definitely does not.

    The problem is that it costs more than many markets will bear. If it costs me $10,000 to build a Shipping system, there are many fewer potential customers than if it cost $200. But if I build that $10,000 system, keep it proprietary, and sell it for $200, my market is much larger. Instead of a single $10k sale, I can make hundreds of $200 sales.
  • by 3CRanch ( 804861 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:21PM (#13286855)
    Go check out Supposed to be equivalent to M$ Exchange...
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:22PM (#13286866) Homepage Journal
    Of course I Have seen Linux servers in use in lots of businesses, and I know they exist and do the job well.
    However, the customers I deal with barely know how to use a computer let alone requiring their own servers.
    If I still worked at my previous employers I would be giving completely different answers now (5 years ago, Linux installations were growing even back then), but in my current backwater environment, talking about Linux and OSS in general is a foreign language to them.

    IDC stats and industry figures don't mean much to small companies and partnerships dealing with local customers, they go with what they see working and tbh its a nicer simpler way to live.
  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:35PM (#13286955)
    This past weekend I had a discussion with my aunt who works as a sales person for Oracle (and is also a qualified DBA). We were discussing my resume and she claimed that all the Open Source-related skills on it would scare potential employers.

    She basically tells me that no business operator with brains would deploy OSS, because there's nobody to "stand behind it". I countered, I thought brilliantly, by offering the example of Apache, the most shining and long-running example of Open Source. She replies that Oracle and others take Apache and create their own customized versions, suggesting additional code audits, etc, so that versions that Oracle might run are NOT your average downloads.

    I was just flabbergasted, speechless, and clearly unprepared for an attack on OSS which I feel most certainly have proven themselves in numerous software packages.

    Was I simply battling the "sales-droid" mentality? Is this a battle worth engaging in, or should I nod, smile, and slowly back away? ;)
  • Idea! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug&geekazon,com> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @01:11PM (#13287239) Homepage
    What would be really cool is to go to a website and create your own custom distro by selecting from a list of apps and features. Then the server would generate an ISO and burn it for you, and you get it in the mail or download it. There could be a few templates for starting points, or you could start from scratch. Linux installation programs usually let you select which apps to install. A smorgasboard distro generator would just move that step upstream. I wonder if a pay service like this would make money.
  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @03:31PM (#13288405) Homepage Journal
    Transitioning from one platform to another can be incredibly expensive. It doesn't matter what kind of license the software has.

    Bingo. I had the option of starting my business from scratch. Nothing was in place, and I picked and chose from OSS and traditional software. I run a law office, and I ended up with the following:

    1. Windows XP (needed it for my accounting package, plus training my minions on LInux was not an appealing idea)
    2. Server OS: GNU/Linux
    3. Website/Content management: PHP-Nuke
    4. File server: Samba
    5. Search tool for office network: Swish-e
    6. Mail: Thunderbird
    7. Office suite: Open Office
    8. Browser: Firefox
    9. Accounting: Quickbooks
    10. AV: AVG

    That's really all I need. I have a few pieces here and there: Paperport (which came OEM with my MFC machine) and Palm Desktop (came OEM with my Treo) for instance. I tried to mix and match based on my needs, budget, and consideration of implementation costs (that killed the idea of Linux on the desktop, though that's not out the window (so to speak) just yet -- I may ultimately make that move).

    My standard rule in-house is to look OSS first, commercial second. I am clearly the exception in my community right now, by I am spreading the word. I'm not taking a ideological standpoint, simply a cost/beneift approach when spreading the word. I know OSS wins on initial cost (which is important to me now) and my staff has transitioned to Open Office pretty easily since there isn't a huge installed base of MS Office forms in place. In other areas, if an OSS app scratches an itch, I go that route if the software works inthe manner I need it to. If there is no OSS option, or there is a bad one, I do not hesitate to go commercial, and I don't feel badly about it.

    FWIW, I know people who still run their offices on DOS Wordperfect versions, and these folks are giving serious consideration to OOO right now as a way to upgrade to a GUI office suite. They don't want to shell out hundreds per seat for MS Office.

    YMMV, but ultimately, I think OSS will win/lose on the merits of the software rather than any ideological notion about how software should be created/licensed/distributed, etc. Upfront costs are a significant issue for me as well, but if the OSS software was not good, I wouldn't use it, even if it were free.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner