With no end in sight to the economic malaise and a good chance that this could be lasting a while, it's time to find ways to cut your IT budget. Just today OpenOffice.org announced that the Release Version of OpenOffice 3.0 is available on its web site, and it's proving so popular, that the servers are having trouble keeping up with demand. With this in mind, it might be a good time to think about moving some licenses from pay to free.

Free is Good, No Really

OpenOffice, the free alternative to Microsoft Office, is a sterling example of all that is good about the open source concept. You have a team of dedicated programmers from all over the world working to generate free software with much of the same functionality as the pay versions. I downloaded it for my 13 year old son recently. He couldn't afford the cost of a Microsoft Office license, so I told him to use OO instead. He wanted to know how they could give it away for nothing? It's a fair question and not easy to explain, but there are people who want to help build free software, to be a part of that and to prove it's possible.

Part of the challenge open source faces, especially in the enterprise, is a perception that if it's free, it must be inferior or they would be charging for it. Some enterprise CIOs have the same confusion as my son, but with the economy tanking, it can't hurt to start experimenting with open source. Does it mean you suddenly get rid of all your Microsoft Office licenses? Probably not, but you can be sure there are large pockets of workers who will do just fine with OpenOffice and it will end up saving your company money.

You Don't Have to Be Religious About It

Some open source advocates see the open source concept almost as a religion, certainly a philosophy, but you don't have to be an evangelist to take advantage. Begin by identifying areas in your organization where you could begin replacing pay licenses with open source versions. And keep in mind that it's not just business productivity software like OpenOffice. There are open source versions available for all kinds of enterprise software including databases, CRM, content management and more. And of course I haven't even mentioned Linux, but that's for a post another day.

Keep in mind that the more complex the implementation, the more likely you'll need consulting services to help with configuration and customization, so you have to weigh your costs and benefits and ROI just like you do with any enterprise software investment, but the fact you don't have to pay for a license is going to reduce costs from the get-go (and for the record, you often need consultants to help you implement the pay license too).

Judge Open Source Fairly

And one other thing, when you're judging open source software, you need to be fair. It's tempting to hold it to a higher standard than the pay variety. It's going to have flaws and there are going to be aspects you like and dislike just like any software. You can't expect perfection. That's not a fair standard. The yard stick you use should be if it helps your employees get their work done for a lower cost with a similar level of functionality.

In the coming months, it seems certain that budgets are going to tighten. In this context, it would be foolish not to look at open source. Just because many open source advocates see it as way of life, doesn't mean you have to look at it that way. You can just look at it a sensible way to cut costs. In fact, you would be fool to discount it altogether. After all, what you have got to lose? It's free.