The continuing dominance of software solutions within information technology (IT) has made for a confusing landscape for contractors and end-users. Software is a key component in many infrastructures and serves as the backbone for most systems as well. While battles rage on between similar software offerings for specific tasks and solutions, a larger decision must be made: IT professionals must decide whether to opt for an open source or a more traditional, proprietary solution.

In daily office work, most people use applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, AutoCAD, etc., which are all proprietary software. This means the software manufacturer owns and controls the software source code. Therefore, end-users cannot access that source code.

On the other hand, with open-source software, end-users can access the source code and make changes. Developers across various organizations can work together to modify an open-source solution to make an even stronger offering.

Deciding between the two options is hard because both open-source and proprietary solutions offer similar technological benefits. However, the recession has boosted open-source software in popularity because open-source software generally costs less to produce, purchase, install and operate.

Voice over Internet protocol takes advantage of open-source software. It continues to dominate the voice side of networking due to its low cost in comparison to traditional voice systems.

Database programs have become almost a lifeline for most businesses, and familiarity with options on the proprietary side are deep. Open-source database options include various free versions with the most popular and recognizable being MySQL.

Many contractors and end-users are dependent on Microsoft’s Office. Open Office is free, open-source software similar to Microsoft’s Office Suite. Google Docs also has been gaining momentum since it is free, which is preferable to the high licensing cost of proprietary programs.

Though there are open-source solutions for just about every proprietary software, the decision to opt for open-source versions is still often overlooked. This is due, in part, to the historical perception that open-source solutions are not as robust and stable as their full priced counterparts. That is not entirely true anymore as most open-source programs have been tweaked enough that most users wouldn’t even notice a difference. Most wouldn’t have any indication that they were free versions.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what the catch is to open-source software. Open-source programs generally are not supported as thoroughly as proprietary programs. Traditional proprietary software programs generally include technical support that makes troubleshooting relatively easy. The licensing costs, which are part of the fee you pay to own the software, fund the technical support.

For those willing to put a little more time and effort into understanding, tweaking and using a software program, open source is a good option, as the low-to-no cost associated with such solutions just cannot be beat. And for those who feel forced to purchase certain software solutions because there may seem to be no alternative, open-source software may offer that freedom of choice after all.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.