Open Source Does Not Mean Free… but it could save you a bundle.

The phrase Open Source Software just means software that costs you nothing, or very little, in comparison to other options for brand recognized software packages from major corporations.

photo from by krzysiuc

We are going to stay at a nuts and bolts level of discussion in this article and not dig into any of the confusing and jargon filled tech talk that so often surrounds computer software program information. Open source means that the production process can be freely adapted by others to include improvements to a product, as well as to generate spin-off products generated from that original process.
But you as an individual or company who is trying to minimize expenditures and make the smartest purchase possible do want to include open source options when you research your purchase.
Smartest, of course, is defined by you. For some smart may mean inexpensive or even free. Smartest for others may involve triple bottom line considerations. Smartest often also means access to a group of people who can answer your questions.
I am showcasing two open source software products in this piece, both are ones I use all the time.
A great example of open source software that is GIMP, which stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program. GIMP is often compared to Adobe Photoshop® or Corell Draw® in that they are advanced programs that allow users to manipulate or create images using layers, paths, channels as well as a wealth of other professional level features. The most obvious difference between the programs is cost. Adobe Photoshop® can cost between hundreds to thousands of dollars dependent upon the version and options purchased. There is no cost to download and use GIMP. If you have the ability to download and install software on your computer, you may download it for free and try it out, and use it for as long as you want to use it.
Another great example of open source software is Open Office. Open Office is most often compared to Microsoft Office Suite. The main difference is the lack of a mail program. It does have a database program, and it also has document, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing components.
You can easily save over $1000.00 if you use this rather than traditional commercial programs with all these components
Risk. Is downloading risky? Yes, there are risks associated with downloading software from the internet. Vulnerabilities are also found within proprietary software distributed by the largest software corporations in the world. Know the company from whom you are downloading the software. Do not download from “the internet.” Download from a site run by a person or company that you have checked out, read reviews on, and can verify.
You can minimize your risks by doing your research. Is the software you are considering part of a larger distribution network, Sourceforge, found at, is the main clearinghouse for open source project development. On this site you can find out if the product is widely downloaded, how many people work on the project, and read reviews of it.
Reputable developers and software products also often have support forums which you can access and or professional versions to which you can upgrade.
Stability: the terms alpha, beta, and stable also should also be familiar and understood. You might consider alpha to be unstable and untested software, beta to be in testing but usable, and stable to be a version that can be released officially and sold if that is the developers intent.
Updates are sometimes offered free to beta testers who register and provide feedback. A for sale version may be offered as a supported version and a free download may be available but with no support. There are all combinations of such software offerings. Be sure you understand what you are signing up for with your download. Many people just download and are off on their merry way, but and this is a big but, remember that large and reputable open source software projects are not free. If you decide to be part of the community you want to consider whether you can to give monetary, advertising, or documentation support to the project.

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