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7 Reasons Not to Use Open Source Software

By Paul Rubens, CIO
February 11, 2014 09:06 AM ET

CIO - Talk to an open source evangelist and chances are he or she will tell you that software developed using the open source model is the only way to go.

The benefits of open source software are many, varied and, by now, well-known. It's free to use. You can customize it as much as you want. Having many sets of eyes on the source code means security problems can be spotted quickly. Anyone can fix bugs; you're not reliant on a vendor. You're not locked in to proprietary standards. Finally, you're not left with an orphaned product if the vendor goes out of business or simply decides that the product is no longer profitable.

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However, the open-source evangelist probably won't tell you that, despite all these very real benefits, there are times when using closed-sourced, proprietary software actually makes far more business sense.

Here are some of the circumstances when old-fashioned proprietary products are a better business choice than open source software.

1. When It's Easier for Unskilled Users

Linux has made a huge impact on the server market, but the same can't be said for the desktop market - and for good reason. Despite making strides in the last several years, it's still tricky for the uninitiated to use, and the user interfaces of the various distributions remain far inferior to those of Windows or Mac OS X.

While Linux very well may be technically superior to these proprietary operating systems, its weaknesses mean that most users will find it more difficult and less appealing to work with. That means lower productivity, which will likely cost far more than purchasing a proprietary operating system with which your staff is familiar.

2. When It's the De Facto Standard

Most knowledge workers are familiar with, and use, Microsoft Word and Excel. Even though there are some excellent open source alternatives to Office, such as LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice, they aren't identical in terms of functionality or user interface, performance, plugins and APIs for integration with third-party products. They are probably close enough as much as 90 percent of the time, but on rare occasions there's a risk that these differences will cause problems - especially when exchanging documents with suppliers or customers.

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It also makes sense to use proprietary software in specialist fields where vendors are likely to have gone into universities and trained students on their software. "The software may not necessarily be better, but it may be selected by a university before an open source solution gets a big enough community around it," says Chris Mattman, an Apache Software Foundation member and a senior computer scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"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.

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