Open Source or not Open Source in the Tertiary Education Sector?

Many tertiary institutions are very interested in open source especially from the perspective of perceived control and initial cost (Open Source is "free"). Open Source software has some real benefits and there are some great open source projects around.

However, experienced organisations have learnt that overall, open source has a lot of rough edges.

We are firm believers that when choosing a software product, open source should always be considered but never should open source be sought exclusively.

Open source often means a lower quality product than commercial alternatives. The reason is simply that a commercial operator has to demonstrate real value to real customers in order to exist. Compared to an open source solution which can be developed by a hobbyist and made public with ease on one of the myriad of open source project hosting services which are proliferated by half complete open source projects. Exceptional software developers make great software, and exceptional software developers are generally not  employed by the sector directly. The core competencies of the tertiary education sector are not software development - this is the way it should be. All organisations should know their core competencies whether they are commercial, government or non-profit.

The leadership of open source software is quite different to that of commercial software. For example, for a commercial product it is critical the software perform it's function well, and that the software evolve to meet the changing requirements of users. In open source software, the developers are under no pressure to align development with the needs of users. It may be appealing for an organisation to be able to hire a developer or allocate development resources to extend an open source product they have become committed to, however the result of this can be significant costs and importantly, over time, the version you are using becomes so different from the main stream product that it's difficult to keep benefiting from any of the improvements.

For an enterprise, the question over open source software use should be one of "what is the best software for us now". And "what software will give us the most value to help us achieve our goals - now". If that software is a commercial product, and it is within your budget, then that is the right product for you to be using. In terms of cost, it is important to be realistic as low initial costs is one dimension of a multi-dimensional issue with quality, functionality, TCO, ROI and track-record being other important dimensions.

Open Source or Open?

Another dimension to consider with with an enterprise system, is that most commercial products do use "Open" components and technologies. A good example is the platform and database used. In the case of aPlus+ both the platform (ASP.Net) and the database (Sql Server) are open. This means that there are options for connectivity, and you have full access and control to the underlying data. Open technologies are important and access to, and control over your data, are important.

 
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