Why Some Users Revert to Proprietary Software

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To use, or not to use: That is the question when the conversation relates to open-source software. But amongst those who believe the hype and implement the solutions, there are also those who believed the hype and then went back to proprietary software. Why would an organization do this? There are two main reasons: performance and money.

“Take databases,” said Henry Hall, president, Wild Open Source. “An organization might expect similar performance out of an open-source database, but they don’t see it. Right now, scalability is a big thing. Sometimes the functions provided by the proprietary databases are better, currently, than the open-source databases. Performance for particular applications might be better. The job will run faster on a piece of proprietary software than it will on the equivalent open-source software.”

Sometimes there is no equivalent to a proprietary software solution, and organizations think that they might be able to glue something together via open source. Hall said often times that just doesn’t work. “You’ve got to pick the right tools for the job that you’re trying to do. There are certain circumstances, for example, where people might test out an open-source solution where they were using a proprietary solution before and then find during the testing that the cost of retraining their staff might overrun the anticipated savings they hope to get. That’s a big thing. It can be very costly. There’s down time, perhaps, while the staff is being retrained. There’s the cost of the training, and there can be issues with who you can hire—although that’s being mitigated pretty quickly,” he said.

Organizations often go back to proprietary software because they don’t spend enough time doing a thorough initial assessment of how a system change might affect their workforce or business operations. “If you’re changing over from something, you have to do it in a smart way,” Hall explained. “You don’t just throw all the balls up in the air and expect them to land perfectly. That’s just general business continuity. Once you get started you see that your planning might not have been complete. You didn’t take into account, for example, the cost of retraining. There might be a need to do some additional capital investments.

“For example, a large hotel chain was investigating open source. They maintain a huge reservation database, and they said ‘Well, we could take pieces of that database perhaps and run with open source rather than the large proprietary database.’ They found that it was actually easier to maintain a large-scale proprietary system with the one huge database rather than try to split it up into more manageable sizes where the open-source solutions would fit nicely. It was just more costly. There might be style things too,” Hall said.

“There used to be a company that built games for Linux that has since gone out of business because the market wasn’t there. Gaming systems, from what I can tell with my kids, there’s a far bigger market for windows machines. And sometimes the solutions that you’re looking for aren’t mature enough. Open source does have a very fast development model, but some things just aren’t there yet, like scalability. Or open-source databases don’t handle the massive amounts of data like the hotel needed to pump through its reservation system. Not to say that in a few years open source won’t have those capabilities. It probably will. A lot of times if companies decide to go to open source and consider it seriously, they take a look at their return on investment not just in the next six months. Sometimes these types of conversions will take a couple of years.”

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