Open source versus proprietary in the enterprise

The brewing debate on which platform serves the needs of enterprise better, proprietary or open source software, has waged on for many years now, culminating in steady adoption of both systems across many companies around the world.

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The brewing debate on which platform serves the needs of enterprise better, proprietary or open source software, has waged on for many years now, culminating in steady adoption of both systems across many companies around the world.

On the one hand, proprietary software is known to provide the stability and ease with which it can easily be deployed and used inside most organisations. That trusted brands are usually the ones behind these software adds to the credibility of the platform.

On the other hand, the steady rise of open source software proves that the same level of functionalities can be had at a much lower price, sometimes for no cost at all. Easy customisation and development also adds to the appeal of open source software.

For Computerworld Philippines' CIO Roundtable for the month of August, we rounded up three IT executives and took their pulse about the use of open source software in the enterprise.

For Nelson Labagala, ICT manager of Amon Marketing, moving to open source means easing a bit on the IT budget because of its lower total cost of ownership. "Its strength comes with the investment, and the cost. That's its primary strength," he emphasised. But despite the lower TCO, firms still find it difficult to introduce open source into the system, as in the case of James Guiab, CTO of Creative-Quoin. "We tried using open source office products [before] but there was too much resistance from the users. We ended up buying commercial licences," he explained.

In the same vein, the lack of IT professionals with the right skills sets suitable for open source is a bane for the platform. "The scarcity of personnel with open source skills sets [is frustrating]. Applicants/personnel with open source technology skill sets tends to demand higher pay," Daisy Quijano, IT manager of Isuzu Philippines, lamented.

Julius Suarez, sales engineer of IT security firm Sophos, sponsor of this month's roundtable, also offered valuable insights to the discussion.

Computerworld: Before anything else, let us lay the grounds first on what our definition of open source is.

Nelson Labagala: First, open source is a free source code from the Internet. You would just need to develop or customise it to fit your company's needs. Usually, what software developers would do is to develop it for the Philippine setting, then sell it to companies. Our supplier has developed a web-based ERP system for us, written in Java and the backend is MySQL.

The system is worth half a million pesos, unlike proprietary software where you would have to spend millions on the back-end alone, and then you would still have to buy per-user licences. Actually, our boss is not an avid fan of licensed software.

James Guiab: For me, open source is software where you have a copy of the source code of. One of our motivations for using open source is that you can take the source code and develop it further. Another motivation is that a lot of time, open source also means free software. Additionally, sometimes you have to customise the software down to the level of the source code, so it is an advantage to have a copy of the source code. Not necessarily so that you can modify it and repackage it later on to sell to companies, but for your own company's internal use.

Open source is not necessarily free. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is free as in free lunch (for the developers). Open source means you have a copy of the source code and you have the freedom to modify it and share it, as opposed to software solutions that do not normally provide a copy of the source code. Usually, open source is associated with free software, but open source and free are not always the same thing.

Computerworld: Mr. Labagala, since you've mentioned that your bosses prefer open source software rather than proprietary software, during times when you need an application, for example you've mentioned ERP or for example you will need CRM in the future, do you equally choose between open source and proprietary software or are you leaning more towards open source?

Labagala: Before we chose our open source solution, we tried out several free ERP software packages, we studied them and see if they fit the needs of our company. There was SQL Ledger, and OS Suite, we studied them thoroughly, but when it came to reports, they required an expert programmer to build reports for you using Perl. Perl programmers here in the Philippines are rare, we had a problem looking for one, so that's when our current supplier presented their open source solution. They fixed the errors in their own software and fitted it to the Philippine setting. It's going okay so far, it's still running, and if there are any problems, they can easily address them.

Computerworld: But in the near future, when you need an application, would you still go for open source or will you still consider using proprietary software?

Labagala: I will recommend open source, but we would still need the support of proprietary software. Like when we need to do reports, which do not come with the system of open source, we need to extract the data coming from an open source database (MySQL), we use Microsoft Access for it, or if we go straight to the reports, we use Cyrstal Reports, because it is easier to use.

Julius Suarez: I have an additional question. Do support services come with the open source ERP solution from your provider, or do you have to pay for the maintenance?

Labagala: The support is included, we use a chat system to fix the problems, but if we want something changed or customised with the program, there is a fee already.

Suarez: So, the code is with them?

Labagala: Yes, it is with them.

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