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Pondering the Fate of Open Source & Software Licenses

Call it lack of planning, miscommunications, or whatever you want, but when IT comes up short on funds for new computers and software licenses sometimes users are left hanging. This doesn't have to be the case.

In one particular organization I'm thinking about, IT took a rather haphazard approach to migrating users from Exchange to Office 365, implementing numerous domain names from various business units. Now the lack of structure is coming to a head at a cost and with some pain. IT is expected to fulfill the organization's computing needs but has no money to spend and no licenses to spare.

If you were in the IT manager's shoes, what would you do? You could wait, arrange or beg for funds, use 30-day free trial software with the hope to purchase licenses... or you could use Apache OpenOffice, a free, open-source collection of office productivity tools compatible with Microsoft's Office suite.

If you opt to use OpenOffice, you are free to download as many copies as needed for users of the Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris, and Apple Mac OS X operating systems. The suite comprises:

  • Writer, for word processing
  • Calc, for creating spreadsheets
  • Impress, for creating multimedia presentations
  • Draw, for producing diagrams and illustrations
  • Base , for working with databases
  • Math, for mathematical equations

  • Writer, for word processing
  • Calc, for creating spreadsheets
  • Impress, for creating multimedia presentations
  • Draw, for producing diagrams and illustrations
  • Base , for working with databases
  • Math, for mathematical equations
  • Now, some of my IT buddies are vehemently against OpenOffice. Their biggest bone of contention is tech support. They ask: "Who do you call?" While it's true enough that you won't find a toll-free number to call, online support is available here in the form of online documentation and Wikis. In addition, you can even find firms that offer professional support services for OpenOffice.

    Lately I've been thinking about OpenOffice in context of the subscription model for software. As discussed in a November 2014 Bloomberg post, Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP are moving toward subscription models in which they deliver their software via cloud infrastructure. These models, the article went on to say, may capture 31% of a $500 billion market by 2018.

    I can't help but to wonder whether companies are really going to use paid subscription models for all their users. Moving from ownership or the traditional "buy the license and use it as long as it's supported" model may wane simply because software makers can potentially capture greater market share by offering subscription-based models only. This model, also as noted in the Bloomberg piece, may be lucrative for hosting companies.

    Will companies migrate toward subscriptions and abandon traditional licensing and, if so, what impact would this have on hosted providers? It could mean competitiveness among cloud providers and more choices for consumers and businesses. But how much will a business allow its OPEX to grow? Will prices for mainstream software packages drop, stay the same, or increase?

    Having used OpenOffice for several years on the Panasonic Toughbooks I use in the field, I've avoided buying into traditional or subscription-based services. While enterprises may have a different view on licensing, cost most always figures into the decision-making process. So if they go the subscription route, they'll have to then ask what strategies they can use to lower those costs. Will they be able to haggle on price?

    If the subscription model does become the norm, will OpenOffice and other open-source software thrive, dive, or stay the same in market share? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

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