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The open source decision: a question of "what works"

Open source provides a lot more than just a road to cheaper software. Much, much more.

Baseline Magazine has a great case study of why one company elected to buy an open-source application (in this case, Compiere's open-source ERP solution). Years ago, if anyone opted for open source it was purely a cost-driven decision.

Today, however, while cost is a driving factor in open-source purchasing decisions, it's just one of many, as the article notes:

[The customer] wasn't exactly inclined to go for open-source. "We're not an open-source type of company....We don't use Linux or OpenOffice. Really, we're just looking for tools that work."

And so he settled on an open-source solution. Interesting. Had this article run three years ago, it would have been making precisely the opposite point (i.e., that proprietary software was a better bet because it "just worked" even if more expensive). But we've come a long way, as it were, and open source is now recognized for the diverse benefits it brings, lower cost being just one of them.

One of my favorite parts of the article is where it talks about the flexibility open source brought to the customer. The customer, PerTronix, needed a feature in the product. So the systems integrator, KnowledgeBlue, wrote it:

PerTronix also saw efficiency and procedural gains. Before installing OpenBlue, PerTronix had a team of workers come in to headquarters on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day to manually key in changes to 37 price lists. Those lists would then have to be updated at the other facilities. That level of effort made it unreasonable for the firm to tweak its prices more than once a year. "It was such a hassle," Reh says.

KnowledgeBlue added a feature to OpenBlue [KnowledgeBlue's implementation of Compiere] that lets PerTronix enter prices on a single spreadsheet and, in one click, update the lists throughout the company. Another efficiency gain came in batching invoices. Since the company deals with many repeat buyers, Reh and his team wanted to cobble invoices together instead of creating and sending them one by one. Building that capability helped PerTronix's accounting staffers on both the exhaust and ignition businesses save a total of an hour a day.

Imagine that. Software that was made for the customer, rather than the customer for the software. It's called open source.