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Compare to Open Source

Which is Better; Open Source or Commercial Software?

The simple answer is... it depends. Neither solution is perfect for all situations, and your unique needs will dictate which option is a better fit. Many people focus on the fact that open source software is free, however, there are many other aspects of implementation and maintenance to take into consideration when making this important decision. Fees for services like installation and consulting can quickly offset the free cost of software. This often makes open source much more expensive than commercial software.

Initial Software Costs (Open Source)

Free

Software Installation Fees (Open Source)

If you'll be hosting your site, you'll need to pay someone to install the software, or do it yourself. Unless you're an experienced Linux administrator, you're typically not going to be able to do this on your own. The cost can vary dramatically depending on the software and complexity of the installation. Some hosting companies will pre-install some of the most popular systems for free.

Technical Support (Open Source)

With open source software, there is typically no one to call for support. You didn't pay for the software, so there is no obligation for anyone to help you when you run into problems. There are, however, third party companies that offer paid support for some open source applications. This is a paid service, and these consulting fees can, over time, dramatically exceed the license fees of commercial software. In effect, this makes open source more expensive than some commercial software.

The standard support mechanism for open source software can be found on discussion forums. Here, you can post your problem and wait for someone to answer. For a non-critical issue, this can work well. A large community of users can give you different opinions on how to solve your problem, all for free. However, there is no guarantee that anyone will ever answer your post, and if no one answers, you're going to have to try and hire someone to help you resolve the issue. If the problem is critical, your site could be down for hours or even days while you wait for help that may never come.

Even if you're able to find and hire an "expert consultant", chances are, they are only knowledgeable with the functionality, and are not intimate with the low level aspect of how the software was actually programmed. Ideally, when there is a problem, you want to deal directly with the person, or group of people, who programmed the software in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. With open source, this is almost never an option.

The key point here is that with open source software, there isn't a hot line to call for support. You're basically on your own unless you hire a paid consultant to help. A paid consultant typically will not be available 24/7/365 to solve a problem on your website. A paid consultant did not program the software, and therefore cannot solve the problem in the most efficient manner, if they can solve it at all.

Documentation (Open Source)

With most open source systems, the documentation has a lot to be desired. The documentation is classically written by programmers, and is not easily understandable to the common web designer or marketing professional. It is not an uncommon event to spend hours digging into discussion forums and wikis only to find that the part of the software you're working on has no documentation at all, or is very outdated. Some open source applications have excellent documentation, and others are dismal. If the documentation is lacking, you're going to be relying on your paid consultants more often than not.

Hosting (Open Source)

Open source software is just software. You need to contract with a hosting provider in order to have a home to install your software. Hosting providers may have limitations in their environments that can cause problems, or completely prevent you from using certain aspects of your open source application.

Most hosting companies do not support the software that you install. When there is an issue with your site, you may find yourself being bounced back and forth between your paid consultant and the hosting company, both claiming the problem is the fault of the other. All the while, your site is down.

Software Patches (Open Source)

With open source, you are responsible for the constant updates and patches that the software requires. Because of the nature of open source, anyone can look at the source code, including malicious people. As a result, open source is infamous for being hacked and therefore must be updated very frequently in order to fix any found exploits. Failure to do this will almost certainly guarantee that your site will get hacked. In order to update your site, you must either perform the updates yourself (Linux administrator) or pay a consultant to do this. With open source, it is not uncommon to patch the software weekly, if not daily.

With every update, your site could stop working, modules could stop communicating with each other, and the functionality could come to a complete halt. This problem is a very real one, and one that deserves serious consideration. Think about how open source is created. Dozens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of programmers contribute to the programming of an application. Different programmers create different modules, not knowing what the other programmers are doing with their modules. Well, when the system is updated, there is no guarantee that anything that was working before will keep on working. Maybe the programmer who made that great module that you use every day gave up on the project and has no intention of upgrading it to be compatible with other newer modules. There are countless issues that can occur, and with open source, this is a real problem that you will encounter.

Software Customization (Open Source)

If you're like most companies, you're going to want to do something that the other guy is not. You're going to want some sort of customization to your site and software. Well, this is where open source claims to be great, but in reality, it's one of its major downfalls.

Because your programmer has access to the source code, he can modify the software any way he wants. You would think that this is wonderful. "Not only is the software free, but I can also tune it any way that I want!" Great, right? No. It's the worst-case scenario with open source.

Here's the problem. In the previous section, we discussed the importance of frequently updating your open source software. This is a good thing to do. Well, a week has passed and it's time to update your site because there is a new exploit that will allow hackers to access it. You perform the update and then... nothing works. What happened? Well, your customizations are not part of the core software and probably never will be. So, in many situations, once you customize, you can forget about updating your site. As a result, you have just created an orphan piece of software that, very soon, will be a hacker's paradise. As new features and fixes come out, you can forget about them. You're on your own.

Ease of Use (Open Source)

A man and woman were flying in a hot air balloon and yelled down to a group of people, asking them where they were. A young man answered, "You're in a hot air balloon!" The woman in the balloon said to her friend, "That guy is a programmer". Her friend asked, "How could you know that?" and she answered, "Because his answer was absolutely precise and correct, but completely useless."

The point of that little story is simple. Programmers can't design, and what they think is easy to use and understand is not comprehensible to the average user. Open source software is almost exclusively programmed and designed by programmers, and as a result, the software is usually not very intuitive or easy to use. Open source software does not have a team of usability experts. It never happens.

Recurring Fees (Open Source)

With open source software, there are no recurring fees for the software. There are however, recurring fees for the hosting of the site and consulting fees.

Disorganized Programming (Open Source)

What is great about open source is what is bad about it. It's great that people from all over the world can contribute to a single project and create something that many can benefit from. What's wrong with that? Well, imagine you have 1,000 cooks in the kitchen from all over the world and they are told that as a group, they must make the best Tiramisu possible. Imagine what the end result of that project would produce. It would be chaos.

Well, open source suffers from the same problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Thousands of programmers, all with their own habits, objectives, and techniques are trying to push their solution as the best. The end result of open source is the mixture of all this programming code put into one pot. The software may work, but it can be very slow and impossible to understand by other programmers. But hey, it's free. Beggars can be choosers.

The best software is created by small teams of architects and software engineers, communicating daily with each other in physical meetings and interactions. The team has agreed upon objectives and standards in programming to achieve their goals. In addition to the programmers, there are graphic designers, project managers, user interface specialists, quality assurance engineers, and a documentation team. Open source simply lacks this structure and these disciplines.

Conclusion (Open Source)

Even with all of the issues stated above, open source still makes a lot of sense for some applications. Applications like databases (MySQL), web servers (Apache), and Office Suites (Open Office) are excelling open source applications that are very stable and do not need customization. However, for website content management, we would not recommend open source unless you're an experienced Linux administrator, you will never want to customize the software, and you're comfortable with a support mechanism that is based on user forums and wikis.

AspireSoft

Software Cost (AspireSoft)

There is a nominal license fee for the software, starting at $399. This fee includes the installation of the software on the hosting servers.

Technical Support (AspireSoft)

Free technical support is provided via phone, email, and discussion forums. Because AspireSoft has developed the software and hosts the application, you have one point of contact for all things technical. Your problems are solved in the most efficient manner possible.

Documentation (AspireSoft)

There is full documentation for the software online, in addition to training videos.

Hosting (AspireSoft)

As a 'Software as a Service' provider, AspireSoft will host your website in multiple data centers in the U.S. and Europe, on fault tolerant systems.

Software Patches and Upgrades (AspireSoft)

All patches and upgrades are performed as part of the service. There is no need to hire outside consultants to perform this task.

Software Customization (AspireSoft)

Thanks to our highly flexible framework, we are able to provide custom solutions to accommodate the diverse needs of our clients, all while ensuring a seamless upgrade path.

Conclusion (AspireSoft)

With AspireSoft, you're able to contract with one provider to supply your software, hosting, technical support, and consulting. The software is superior to that of open source in terms of performance, functionality and scalability. The costs of the software and monthly fees are many times less than that of an open source solution because support, patches, and upgrades are included. The expertise of AspireSoft in all areas of web development includes search engine optimization, email marketing, and pay per click campaigns.