Busting 4 Myths About Open Source

by Virgil Huston in TYPO3 · 0 comments

The second thing that angered me last week was on the topic of open source myths. It began when I received my copy of the May, 2009, issue of Website Magazine. This is the ONLY free industry publication that I actually read and I thought it was a pretty good until this week.

What did it for me, was an article by Paul Markun, "Choosing the Best Web Content Management System." The editors certainly did not do their due diligence when they published this and did a serious disservice to their readers.

The author is VP of Marketing for Sitecore, a proprietary web content management system (WCMS), that runs on .NET. An immediate concern, did he write this to guide people in the direction of .NET and proprietary software, particularly Sitecore? Read the article and you decide.

There are two glaring areas of misinformation in this article. First, he says "Consider whether your IT organization has standardized on Java or Microsoft .NET or both, and evaluate your WCM needs." Hmmm, what happened to PHP (TYPO3, Drupal, Joomla), Python (Zope, Plone) or even Perl (Metadot, WebGui)?

This statement immediately strikes out the most popular open source CMS products since there is only Java and .NET to consider according to Markun.

This disservice is nothing compared to his trotting out the three biggest myths of open source, myths that actually apply to proprietary software more than to open source.

"1. Open source isn’t synonymous with free. While there are no license fees, support fees and development and maintenance costs can be higher than with commercial software."

Of course open source has support, development and maintenance fees. However, said fees are certainly not higher and are probably far lower with open source WCM systems like TYPO3 because you have so many more options. People make claims like this all the time, but have you noticed that these claims are never backed up with empirical evidence?

You are not locked into one company that will not allow you access to the software’s code. That means you have to hire them or someone they approve to do anything outside of actually using the software and doing some configuration. This myth is a typical oxymoron.

As an example, with TYPO3, you literally have hundreds of agencies and people you can hire to do whatever you want with your software. You don’t like your current software development agency? Fire them and find someone else.

With many proprietary products, if you are dissatisfied with the product or the company, you start from scratch. Hopefully, by the time you get to this point you have learned your lesson and are ready to go open source.

"2. To choose open source you must be willing to fore go commercial-grade support, training and enhancements."

This myth is the most untrue and ridiculous of them all and could really be considered slanderous. With open source, you have more options for support, training and enhancements and Acqal’s support is just as commercial grade or better than anyone else’s, same goes for all the approved TYPO3 agencies, as well as others that are excellent.

This level of professional, commercial grade support is true for other mature open source projects, TYPO3 is not an exception.

"3. Open source may not deliver the performance, security, reliability and functionality needed to sustain a high-quality, compelling customer experience."

Again, this is pure poppycock. TYPO3 is being used at the highest enterprise levels and doing just fine. I have heard horror stories about implementations of both open source and proprietary WCMS products. I am not going to mention specific companies amongst our clients, but we have one case where over $ 300,000 was spent on a proprietary system that never worked and within a year was replaced by TYPO3 for under $ 50,000.

The same situation can happen with open source and it has, but at a much lower cost. There is no evidence that the prevalence of this kind of thing is greater with open source than with proprietary systems. What I do know is that some of the best Intranets and Internet sites are running off of open source WCMS that never heard of .NET.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the myths than Markun brings up, but since we are talking myths, let’s address one more, a particular pet peeve. CIO Magazine lists the following in the article "Open Source: The Myths of Open Source."

"There’s no support"

The way I write this myth is:

"4. Open source projects are less stable than proprietary and you are more likely to have a product that is not maintained, updated, or supported by the developers over the long term if you use open source."

Every company can go out of business and many do every year. Many are sold. This is of particular concern in a down economy like we are in currently.

As quoted in the article referenced above,

"According to Gary Hein, an analyst with technology consultancy Burton Group, technical support is a potential open-source user’s primary concern. "Who do you call when things go wrong? You can’t wring a vendor’s neck when there’s no vendor," he says"

What happens when your proprietary software company goes bankrupt, drops its product, or gets sold and moves its development efforts in a different direction than you need?

You don’t have access to the core code and you are looking at a legal nightmare trying to keep your system up and running and updated. So, you essentially start from scratch and rebuild.

With the mature open source projects like TYPO3, Drupal, and many, many others, these products will still be available even if the core development team walks away today. The code is available and there are easily hundreds of people and agencies capable of keeping your site running, adding features and more.

Alternately, another core development group can take over and continue on.

Lastly, there can be forks, a focus or philosophy change, of your open source project to take it in a new or even original direction. Look at PHPNuke, Mambo and Joomla as examples.

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About Virgil Huston

Field Service Rep Journeyman at Raytheon in Afghanistan; Studied Ecological Anthropology at University of Georgia; Lives in North Augusta, South Carolina; Married to Lynn Huston

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