The State of Massachusetts and a growing number of businesses have something in common: open source software. Massachusetts recently set a new policy of giving preference to open source software when making new purchases and upgrading old equipment. It's a move that ties into a trend that's sweeping up entrepreneurs as well.
Open source software is no longer the overlooked ugly stepchild to proprietary software. Alex Chejlyk, owner of SwiftNet Computer Systems Inc., an IT solutions provider in North Port, Florida, had a difficult fling with open source in the early '90s. But a chance meeting with a copy of Mandrake Linux at Wal-Mart brought him back around. Chejlyk moved his systems over to open source software and now spends his time helping other businesses make the change.
The most natural fit for open source is in your server. Chejlyk, 39, says there's no reason not to go open source for file servers. "I always start on the server side. I'm not opposed to installing proprietary software, but I always tell [customers they] will see me more." Seeing him more for maintenance, rebooting and patch installation means greater cost to the clients. That's why his customers have uniformly chosen open source. They're not alone. This is part of a national business trend, with everyone from IBM to Wal-Mart offering open source.
Making the change and leaving the familiar can be scary. Two common worries are that there will be no support for the software, and that the user interface will be difficult and unsophisticated. While switching is not something most entrepreneurs should try without the guidance of an open source-knowledgeable IT department or outsourced IT help, those concerns are no longer problems. Open source has grown up considerably and is even finding a foothold in regular desktop applications. Just look toward easy-to-use operating systems like Lindows (www.lindows.com). Applications like Win4Lin (www.netraverse.com) allow you to run Windows programs on Linux.
So why do entrepreneurs switch? Chejlyk says, "Stability is the biggest advantage. I could never put a price on stability. I have to visit my clients so much less. Price is another thing. People aren't locked into any licensing." Whether you're tired of dealing with proprietary problems or just have another upgrade cycle coming around, take the time to investigate open source options for your business.