Total Cost of Ownership of FOSS

Another buzz term comes in my mind, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). I can simply said it is to describe a cost to have something. You may find its definition in Google. But, the interesting part for me is this is the term we would find in Information Communication Technology (ICT), or some say Information Technology (IT), or we simply say something that computer related.

The word was brought into my head few years ago when Microsoft made a FUD claimed FOSS-based solutions were costly. After the claim, several people try to justify it. I remember there were some even offered frameworks to compute TCO. Many methods even invented and fortunately some real experts defend the FOSS.

But, seriously, how do you compute a TCO of a software? It even doesn't exists. How do you measure bytes inhibiting computer memory?

Interestingly, you can compute it based on the how much other cost reduced and how the gain increased after the use of a software. In other words, TCO of a software is determined how well you can performs.

Now, let's take a deep moment and calculate how FOSS will gain a benefit for you.

There are some key benefits of using FOSS:
  1. Avoid vendor locking, open for improvements.
  2. Low cost solution with high results.
  3. Education which read as "investment".

Now, some common myth arouse to point FOSS in the wrong direction of TCO:
  1. Legal matters that FOSS may break. Well, never until now we see any of those infringement arouse and won the case. Instead, we saw some FOSS software fight against some proprietary developer that against FOSS license, e.g. MPlayer against KISS which resulted KISS open their player source.
  2. FOSS is cheap. No, FOSS is not cheap. It needs some funds and supports. Every community based project would find themselves in trouble without proper support. They needed to be funded. Implementation cost of a FOSS also is not cheap. Often, FOSS needed a lot of work to be socialized to an organization. So, if you are a company based on quarter reports as measurements of success. FOSS is failing behind those proprietary solution. But,
  3. FOSS is expensive is a FUD. If you are an annual analyst and you are aware of long run benefits, then FOSS may you find as cheap as candy. The cost that make FOSS is expensive is the cost to setup FOSS as one of the infrastructure. Many FOSS project is having difficulty to have proper documentation and support. Although, this is not true for stable and big FOSS projects. Once you have in the pace with any FOSS, you would benefits by many improvements such as daily updates and customization enhancement.
Actually there are some missing points that seems lost that people often see FOSS in a wrong view.
  1. FOSS is a community based project and the project often is a one man show. So, expects of discontinuation of a project when the project leader leave. Or, expect to have discrete approach when new developers come. Note that this is not true for long, stable, and established projects.
  2. FOSS is a community based project and is a products of hackers alter ego. So, you cannot push a community for support nor banging them for not giving you information that you need.
  3. FOSS is a community based project and it's not fair if you just take benefit and not contribute. For the sake continuation of a project, community need to be supported. Either cheered with funds, some code, or just a name. Remember, every ego must be supported.
  4. FOSS is not proprietary.
If you see the four points, it also reveal another good fact: community based project. You could see this and oppose it. Or, you could see this as flock of human resources. Moreover, you could see this as an open standard and see how many amazing improvements. Luckily, you could study your market there.

For short summarize, I can conclude you this:
  1. FOSS is a long run investment.
  2. FOSS is a community based project.
It would impact you as a company or as a part of a vast community. In the end, FOSS would find itself beneficial to you. So, if you would like to total the ownership cost of a FOSS project, you must justified it with some view:
  1. Business view: How this benefits your business.
  2. Social view: How this benefits your worker and your company survival.
  3. Investment view: How this product will support your sustainability.
  4. Warfare: How this would make you own a serious deal of market or make you a top notch.
So, yeah, basically you could count TCO with the common approach you learn in business school.


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