The benefits of open source for startups

As a startup founder, the software you choose in the initial setup phase will have a critical impact on costs, efficiency, and innovation—especially as your startup grows into a viable business. Open source software offers compelling benefits compared to proprietary software, and can help put your startup on the fast track to success. In this blog post, we'll look at the specific advantages.

Open source radically lowers upfront software costs

The low cost of open source is the most visible benefit for startups looking to reduce overheads. There is no initial license purchase cost, nor are there any subscription fees for continued use. Even for small startups, the cost savings of open source office software—such as LibreOffice—can run to thousands of dollars compared to Microsoft Office. Money which would be spent on proprietary software can instead be allocated to areas far more critical to success, such as new product research and development.

Open source apps are powerful, business-grade, and often come with features not available in their proprietary counterparts.

Open source enables flexible working scenarios

Proprietary software comes with restrictive licensing terms that curtail flexible working scenarios and ultimately increase overall business costs. Desirable features such as installation on multiple computers or simultaneous use by more than one employee are usually prohibited. Nominally affordable "home" editions of proprietary software are in fact illegal for commercial use without paying substantially more for the full professional versions.

There are no such restrictions when using open source, which can be installed, used, and copied with far greater freedoms compared to proprietary software. As a startup founder, you can legally distribute business software to all staff. Capital costs can be reduced by implementing a remote work policy, with the same software available for little or no cost on work and home computers. As your startup grows and new hires are made, open source software will scale effortlessly. Upfront costs remain zero, and negotiating complex, expensive multi-user licensing with vendors is relegated to a task your competitors must grapple with instead.

Open source empowers startup innovation

Open source enables opportunities for deep, powerful technology customisation simply not possible—nor permitted—with proprietary software. Your startup can engage a software developer to modify and enhance open source to suit your business requirements in any number of ways—from small features to boost process efficiency, to substantial new product R&D. The freedom to do this gives startups a unbeatable competitive advantage over established businesses using traditional proprietary software—where customisation is prohibited by vendor license terms, and new features and fixes are only available with expensive upgrades.

Open source reduces vendor lock-in and lowers exit costs

Adopting open source software early in your startup phase reduces or eliminates the risk of vendor lock-in, and enables true future proofing. When your intellectual property (IP) is stored in proprietary file formats—such as those found in Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Cloud—you become dependent on a third-party vendor for access to your IP going forward. When the vendor removes support for older file formats in new software versions, you are forced to pay money to the vendor for upgrades simply to retain access to your own IP. If the vendor stops supporting the product that uses the file format—or goes out of business altogether—your IP is effectively imprisoned in orphaned technology. Vendors offering proprietary cloud-only services similarly can modify and remove features at any time—or shut down the entire service—with no control or input from the customer.

By comparison, open source apps typically use true industry standard file formats (such as ODF). These formats can be freely implemented by business software companies, ensuring the widest possible range of compatible software and reducing associated vendor dependence. IP stored in industry standard formats is guaranteed to be accessible from the founding date of your startup, to decades into the future. Documents will open with perfect fidelity irrespective of the software version used. And because the code powering open source software is freely available, no single vendor can shut a product down.

The low exit cost of open source is another important benefit. Exit cost as a factor of software total cost of ownership (TCO) is rarely mentioned by proprietary software vendors whose sales models are based on enticing new customers with nominally low introductory pricing. As your startup grows, and becomes dependent on proprietary products, the cost of migrating to alternatives when the need eventually arises—the exit cost—can become prohibitive. Vendors exploit this scenario by increasing license fees, knowing that customers will likely pay the new amount rather than face the considerable expense and disruption of switching to another product. Vendor lock-in is great for boosting the vendor's revenues, but comes at the expense of your business.

By using open source, migrating to alternative software in the future becomes significantly easier and far less costly. Industry standard file formats and open code—freely implemented by other business software companies—translates to a wide range of other apps that you can readily switch to.

Learn more

An entire universe of open source business software is available for every conceivable purpose—and trying it out simply involves downloading and using it. There is no need to talk to salespeople, no time-limited trials with crippled features, no monthly subscription fees, and no restrictive licensing. To ensure successful adoption, consider engage a company that offers professional open source support and training. This combines the many advantages of open source with the safety net of professional help.

To get started, check out the following open source products:

  • LibreOffice—a full-featured replacement for Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Visio)
  • SuiteCRM—powerful, enterprise-grade CRM
  • Ubuntu—a full replacement for Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS
  • Thunderbird—enterprise email software, suitable for replacing Microsoft Outlook
  • GIMP—a replacement for Adobe Photoshop
  • Inkscape—a vector graphics editor, suitable for replacing Adobe Illustrator
  • Scribus—desktop publishing software, suitable for replacing Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher
  • WordPress—a web CMS for hosting business websites
  • Blender—3D creation software, suitable for replacing Autodesk Maya
  • Zulip—web-based instant messaging, suitable for replacing Slack
  • JSPWiki—web-based business documentation
  • Krita—digital painting software