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Open source software management for the midmarket

Open source software has caught on with SMBs, thanks to advances in security as well as a growing acceptance of its use. Learn more in this Midmarket CIO Briefing.

Open source software management isn't about just finding cheap software. Advances in open source security, more product options to choose from and a growing acceptance of its use have led more midmarket companies in the U.S. and abroad to make the switch to open source applications.

So what's next? Governance needs to be put in place, and midmarket companies need to stay ahead of new security risks while finding new ways to use open source. The open source software management resources in this Midmarket CIO Briefing will get you started.

For free advice and resources on more IT and business topics, visit our list of Midmarket CIO Briefings.

Table of contents

  Linux desktop: More secure than Windows
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Done right, a Linux/open source strategy for the desktop can provide small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with a less-costly, more reliable, easier-to-manage and more secure client system.

But don't move your corporate desktops to Linux and open source applications just because you hate Microsoft. Do it because it is right for your business, and make sure you have an open source software management strategy that will ensure a smooth deployment, experts say.

"People I'm aware of going to desktop Linux are doing it because they are torqued as hell at Microsoft," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif. "I'm not convinced that that's the best reason to make a change."

To wit, Andreas Antonopoulos, senior vice president and founding partner of The Nemertes Research Group Inc. in Mokena, Ill., warns managers not to view the choice between Linux and Windows on the desktop as "a religious decision," an all-or-nothing proposition.

Learn more in "Linux desktop: Simpler, more secure than Windows." Also:

  • Unix or Linux? Are you ready to make the move?
    The need for modernization and cost reduction, or a change in leadership may mean migration away from your existing Unix platform. If your company is the type to scale horizontally and you're uncomfortable with big iron, you may want to consider Linux on blade servers.
  Open source, Web design: Caveat emptor
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Using open source software (OSS) to create or redesign a website should be a no-brainer, right? Maybe, maybe not.

True, open source programs are free, freely distributed and more secure than proprietary ones. But, as Romans used to say, caveat emptor. OSS has as many downsides as upsides, a reality that typically cash-strapped, resource-challenged SMBs need to research before paying for an OSS-based website.

Before starting any website project, assess the benefits and risks of open source vs. proprietary software. Key issues to consider are reliability, cost of development and support versus savings in license fees, compatibility, support and the benefits of building versus buying.

Find out more in "Open source and website design: Caveat emptor." Also:

  • IBM makes U-turn, joins OpenOffice
    OpenOffice enjoyed a jolt of adrenaline this week as IBM announced Monday that it will join the open source software initiative. Analysts say the move should give OpenOffice a significant boost in its quest to take on Microsoft Office, but will it be enough?
  • Vendors duke it out over open source 'forking'
    To protect their interests, some vendors are making it difficult for other vendors to reuse their technology -- but they're still calling themselves open source. Experts are divided over whether this apparent diluting of open source is a problem.
  Open source security OK, experts say
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Ignore the myths. Open source security technology is an affordable and robust option for SMBs.

While some buyers might think security is best left to vendors of proprietary software like Symantec Corp. or SonicWall Inc., experts says open source software can give SMBs the protection they seek.

"I think there is some sort of ingrained bias [against open source security technology] because there is still this myth that open source isn't as robust," said Alex Fletcher, lead technology analyst at Entiva Group Inc., a Silver Spring, Md.-based research firm that specializes in open source technology. "There is reluctance to put open source up against proprietary software because it is thought they are just not capable."

Nick Selby, senior analyst at New York-based research firm The 451 Group, said at the C-level, at least, there definitely is a bias. "The problem with open source security is the same problem that open source had in the mid-1990s: Executives can't understand the revenue model. If you believe that your security is beholden to the good will of unnamed, faceless hippies that might update the software if they feel like, chances are they'll buy a proprietary product."

Learn more in "Open source security OK, experts assure SMBs." Also:

  • Are open source tools safe to use?
    See how safe managing and troubleshooting open source tools are in this expert response with security expert Michael Gregg.
  CIOs struggle with governance
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Open source software has become risky business for companies that fail to manage applications being downloaded by users. Finding help to keep things from getting out of control, however, is another challenge entirely.

There are risks (including legal ones) associated with using multiple open source products within an organization, but those risks are often ignored by both vendors and users. One of the problems is there has been very little incentive on the part of the vendors to develop products, said Michael Goulde, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"Penetration is spreading, but it is not displacing," Goulde said. "It's a small minority of what's actually in use, so the market opportunity isn't there. It hasn't hit yet."

But that doesn't mean there aren't products out there. Raven Zachary, research director at The 451 Group, a New York-based research firm, said some vendors that offer open source support or maintain certified repositories of open source technology see an opportunity in creating tools that enable enterprises to manage open source like a portfolio.

Find out more in "CIOs struggle with open source governance, cite lack of tools." Also:

  • Vendors-turned-open source rally round midmarket
    Software developers trying to improve their competitive edge by taking their products open source means CIOs will have more flexibility when they shop for software.
  • IT managers doubt open source deals will bring change
    Microsoft is lining up Linux partners to maintain the dominance of its operating system. But will it work?
  Open source security: Five best practices
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On the surface, open source software seems like a great deal for SMBs. It's free and freely available on the Web -- which is always in the budget. But best of all, it's supposedly more secure than off-the-shelf commercial software.

But does open source software live up to its touted security credentials?

True, its source code is open and gets picked apart, played with, hacked and tweaked over and over by developers and software gurus worldwide. But open source software, just like its commercial counterpart, still needs to be hardened, patched and locked down before it's deployed.

Learn what steps Dubin recommends in "Open source security: Five best practices." Also:

  • BI for the small guy
    Downloadable open source tools and a boom in vendor products have made BI more of a reality for SMBs. Before you jump in, though, we have some caveats.
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