Open source software gets a bad rap in the United States for some unknown reason. There are misconceptions, confusion and a perception that because it's open source it's free or not as good as commercial software. This is absolutely untrue, open source simply means that the manufacturer or community that develops the the software makes the source code available to its customers or the general public (sometimes both).
Why would they do this? Well in some cases the applications are free, but in all cases the open source community believes you should have the source code to the applications you use to avoid situations like the one’s folks find themselves in when a commercial entity discontinues a piece of software for good or no good reason. Additionally, the widely held and now well proven premise that the more folks that are contributing, testing and providing input on software development, the better the software will be. I say proven because there are dozens of studies that show this, for instance in Netcraft’s 2011 web server survey of over 346 million websites, over 70% of these websites are hosted using open source web servers such as Apache and Nginx. Moreover Apple users are amongst the largest unknowing consumers of open source software, though Apple touts its open source presence proudly and loudly. For instance the web server on your Lion machine or Lion Server uses Apache, you use CUPS (common unix printing system) to print your documents, you use SMBX (Microsoft’s open source version of its SMB protocol) to connect to Microsoft machines over the network.
So now that we have addressed some of the misconceptions, how can your small business leverage open source to get great software and even save some money? Here are five of my top open source software picks that run on the OS X operating system that small businesses can utilize in their business, what the software does and why I like and recommend it.
Vtiger (www.vtiger.com) is a customer relationship management software (CRM) which small businesses can use to track marketing campaigns, customer communications, provide customer quotations, produce and track invoices and even receive, track, and manage support requests from their clients.
Recently they have added project management to the application as well. There are several options to choose from that allow the small business owner to either pay per use for Vtiger, or download and install it on your own servers for free (the open source version https://www.vtiger.com/crm/open-source) or you can sign up for a subscription and support and receive even more features. Because it is web-based, it can server OS X, Windows, Linux and mobile devices and they even provide several mobile applications that allow you to access your instance of Vtiger on the road.
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all open source content management systems (CMS) that provide your small business with big business website capabilities. They are all free to the community with tons of community support and free or pay for add on modules and features you can use to further extend their systems to meet your needs though the default installs and modules typically do the job for most small business operations.
So what does CMS do for your business? Simply put it separates website look from website content and authentication, allowing you to pick a look for today, and change it tomorrow without having to recode your entire website. Additionally, you can provide blogs, videos, user forums and dozens of other features on your website to increase your Internet presence and credibility.
Which one is right for you and your business? Well that depends on your preferences. WordPress is by far the most popular, but Joomla and Drupal also have large (tens of thousands) presence on the Internet. I suggest you look at their web sites (www.wordpress.org, www.joomla.org and www.drupal.org), check out the features, look and feel, and your comfort level with each. As with Vtiger, you have the option to choose a provider that implements and hosts the site for you or you can download and manage it internally.
SnomOne is an open source and free (up to ten extensions) full featured voice over IP telephone system, that you can install on OS X or OS X Server and connect to one of thousands SIP providers to provide your phone numbers and “lines,” called channels in the SIP world. It provides an interactive voice system, voicemail, email notification of voicemail, a simple web interface for management. While Snom would like you to use the software with their IP telephones, you are not restricted to their telephones, though theirs are pretty rugged solid performing phones.
One of the things I love about open source phone systems are their reliability, they just work and work. Just as important to you as a business owner is that since you have the source code, you can extend the phone system to provide some pretty cool functions for your business. For instance, I have personally written code that interfaces open source phone systems into a clients management system to provide customers calling in a method for checking status on orders and receiving tracking information over the phone, pretty neat stuff. (http://www.snom.com/en/products/ip-pbx/snom-one-free/)
The GIMP (www.gimp.org) sounds like a politically incorrect slur, but it actually stands for Graphics Image Manipulation Program, and provides Adobe Photoshop like functionality for OS X, Linux and Windows absolutely FREE and totally open source.
While there is a learning curve, the community has strived to make this software more and more user friendly and there are tons of tutorials to get you started. So, if you need to do web graphics for your website, adjust product photos or marketing images, here is a wonderful open source and free tool for your toolbox.
Another application in a similar vein is Inkscape (www.inkscape.org) which is an open source illustration application like Adobe Illustrator, used to create logos, business cards and marketing graphics and promotional illustrations for posters and the like, it is a wonderful open source project.
MySQL (http://www.mysql.com) and MariaDB (http://mariadb.org/) are database platforms that you can use to power your website, store your Vtiger or other CRM data in or develop any web or even graphical application for. One hundred percent free and one hundred percent open source.
There is a little history that needs to be disclosed on this item though, MariaDB is a branch of the MySQL database system that the original founder, unhappy with the Sun and subsequent Oracle purchase of the MySQL rights, decided to release MariaDB to ensure continued open source access, development and support for his beloved platform, and for that I would like to personally thank him. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of web applications and websites run on MySQL or MariaDB.
Well i promised five great apps but I would be amiss not mentioning two other items. The first is Blender (www.blender.org) which is an open source computer graphics and compositing application. This is my favorite open source project as I work in the motion graphics field and it's wonderful to have a professional grade tool that can produce product simulations, animations, motion graphics and provides professional grade compositing. It's 100% free and open source!
And last but not least to close out this segment, you should take a look at macports.org which contains a repository of open source projects that have been “officially” ported over to the OS X platform from another platform like Linux or BSD. If you use open source, please contribute to the project by commenting, testing, coding or just reviewing features that is what keeps open source great.