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Open source solutions for SMBs, Part 2

Jul 12, 20043 mins
Open SourceRouters

Author John Locke's three key pieces of advice.

Last week we met John Locke, author of Open Source Solutions for Small Business Problems. Here, Locke shares his best advice for improving your technology.

Last week we met John Locke, author of Open Source Solutions for Small Business Problems. Here, Locke shares his best advice for improving your technology.

1) Find an IT expert you trust, and rely on him like you do your accountant and lawyer.

Sure, Locke’s a consultant, but this is good advice regardless. It’s common for small business owners to turn financial and legal responsibility over to accountants and lawyers, yet keep a stranglehold on technology. But think about it: Is controlling your tech more critical than controlling your money? The more tasks you can hand over to the pros, the more time you’ll have to concentrate on your business.

In investigating open source software, ask consultants and vendors what they use and support. If they only sell Microsoft, you will only get Microsoft. If saving money and getting innovative new products ranks high on your priority list, reject that vendor and keep looking until you find one that offers open source.

2) Don’t get sold on an individual product. Look at your needs and the big picture,  not the feature list of the product.

This strikes to the very heart of using open source successfully. If you think only in terms of products, you’ll stay with the mainstream – Microsoft, for the most part. Yet your own survival depends on customers looking past the big companies to find your smaller company, right?

Think of it like this: Everyone needs productivity software, which to most people is synonymous with Microsoft Office. A good product, but it costs at least $300 per license and sometimes much more depending on the applications included. But if you look for apps that provide word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software, instead of knee-jerk thinking Microsoft Office, you find open source applications Open Office and StarOffice, which match Microsoft Office in features but come free with most Linux desktop operating systems.

If you want to stay with Windows but need productivity software, Open Office is free.  If you want a boxed product with support, go for Sun’s StarOffice and pay $75 rather than $300.

Let me hammer home the Microsoft Office comparison a bit more. Microsoft Windows XP Professional costs $150 to $200, but a Linux operating system costs $0 to $129. Decent savings, but not incredible.

But a bundle of Microsoft XP Professional and Office Professional costs nearly $700 online. The cost for a Linux desktop operating system and Office equivalent? The same $0 to $129 as the operating system, because Linux vendors include both in one box. That’s a huge difference.

Every type of Windows application now has a Linux equivalent, with the possible exception of a feature-for-feature replacement for Exchange Server 2003 (and that’s in the works). Open source tools are ready when you are.

And my favorite piece of Locke advice, which you should recognize:  

3) Get a good spam filter in place.

Amen to that, and extend it to include spyware and browser pop-up blockers, too.  See the links below for columns I’ve written on controlling spam.