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Open source: The new usability testing

Open source offers a great way to de-risk IT purchasing decisions by putting real experience in the hands of the CIO.

Furthering my recent focus on de-risking IT investments for the chief information officer, a thought occurred to me while reading CMS Watch's analysis of portal usability testing: open source offers the most comprehensive way to ensure software actually works before you pay for it, and to tweak it to make it work how you want it to work.

This should be an obvious benefit to any CIO used to listening to endless rounds of demos from a vendor's sales engineers...only to discover that the difference between a PowerPoint and implementation is often stark, painful, and costly.

Enter open source.

It's not that open-source software is necessarily better in its features. Often it's not. But an open-source software package with equal or even slightly deficient functionality, when compared to a proprietary offering, is still a safer and likely better bet than the proprietary offering. Don't believe me? You don't have to. With open source, you can try before you buy.

One key problem with the traditional enterprise software sales process is that it depends on faith, faith driven by inflated expectations born of demo-ware (and vendor-sponsored "research"). For this and other reasons, up to 62 percent of IT projects fail. Open source offers enterprises a comprehensive way to do a dry run (or many dry runs) on a technology decision, and thereby reduce risk.

Such a trial process is not free, as enterprise IT will need to pay with its time. But it's much better than buying on a promise only to discover that what you got was...a promise.