There's a lot of mythology around open source software — and more particularly, around open source CRM software. Being software that is freely distributed with the source code, the pros and cons of open source CRM are many. Open source software myths, on the other hand, may or may not favor the adoption of open source technologies. The thing they all have in common, however, is that they can distort your selection of the best software for your needs.
Here are some of the most common open source myths and misconceptions.
Myth #1: Open source CRM and other open source technologies, are free
An open source CRM may be available for free, but that's not the same as saying there's no cost to use it. If you're going to run your business on it, there are costs, and they can be substantial.
The primary determinant of how close open source software is to truly free usually comes down to the size and complexity of the package. Since CRM solutions tend to be complex, you're probably going to have to spend money on open source CRM.
Sometimes you'll spend that money up front. Some open source CRM vendors such as SugarCRM sell more complete packages in addition to offering their basic products, as free downloads. In these cases, the basic package may be free, but they could lack important features.
But the real cost of open source is support and customization. Numerous cloud CRM vendors offer basic functionalities for free, but support services (especially to configure and implement a more customized version of the open source CRM system) need to be purchased separately. This could either be in the form of an onboarding fee, or a monthly retainer in order to ensure help is at hand whenever required.
Of course, operating systems and databases are big, complex programs that can require a lot of support as well – especially for powering business intelligence tools with the data they need to reveal valuable business insights. Simpler programs require less support, and in many cases have no support costs at all. It's possible to use major open source CRM applications without paying a penny, but most businesses find that for the big stuff, it's worth paying someone for support.
Myth #2: Open source means Linux
Although the Linux operating system is the best-known open source product — and many open source applications are written first, or even exclusively, for Linux — open source is a lot more than just Linux. Some open source software is written for Windows first and some of it is never ported to Linux. Most other applications exist in both Linux and Windows versions. You don't have to use Linux to use open source CRM, as millions of people prove every day.
With modern SaaS solutions, open source CRM can run in any device that has a popular web browser, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera or Safari. Simply log in via the open source CRM vendor’s website, and access all the tools you need, over the web. A CRM for small and midsized businesses can especially benefit from SaaS, since no extra commitments will be required in terms of complex implementations, or infrastructure.
Myth #3: There's no support for open source
There's quite a lot of support for open source software, but some of it functions very differently than support for paid commercial software. Basically, popular open source programs give you more options for support.
Some of the most important support options are online forums where users gather to exchange information. Most open source CRM vendors maintain forums for their users. You can get very quick help here, especially for common problems. Of course, this works with paid commercial software too. But in general, community-based support for open source software seems to be better developed than for paid commercial products.
Another source of support are the developers' websites. Often, they feature manuals, tips and fixes that will answer most of your questions, as well as tutorials to help you use the software. Leading CRM providers also offer additional business strategy services, to help build your brand’s CX strategy, or to help improve customer satisfaction.
Myth #4: Open source CRM systems are less functional
There's a tendency to regard open source as "toy" software. In fact, a lot of open source packages exceed the functionality of equivalent commercial software. In some application categories, the most used product is an open source product. Modern open source CRM products that are based on the SaaS model are primarily focused on helping businesses provide a unique customer experience, along with offering just the right features (and limits to how much each feature can be used) so that first-time adopters of the software have enough to begin with.
From this point onwards, businesses can decide whether they wish to continue with the limitations present in the open source CRM, or upgrade to a paid version.
Myth #5: Open source is more secure
Well, no. Open source has some distinct advantages when it comes to security, but it's no guarantee that a package is secure. This myth came about because the "bad guys" tend to attack the most popular programs. So long as those were commercial programs, that's where the criminals focused their attacks. When open source CRM programs became more well-known, they started coming under attack too. The Firefox open source web browser serves as an example; as it grew in popularity, the net newts focused attacks on it, as well as commercial software like Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
The big mistake is to assume that because a program is open source, you don't have to worry about security. The truth is you always have to worry about security, whether your software is open source or commercial. Also, there are different types of cyber threats that don't depend on the underlying operating system or even the particular application. CSS (Cross-Site Scripting) attacks are a good example. The AJAX architecture, which is used by several of the newer CRM programs, is particularly vulnerable whether the web application is open source or not.
Myth #6: Open source is less secure
When it comes to security, the major advantage of open source applications is that there are more eyeballs on the code. Because the source code is freely distributed with the applications, anyone can find, report and even fix bugs. A lot of people do, and it tends to happen very quickly. Even before the development team for the open source product acknowledges the bug and announces the fix, there are likely to be several third-party fixes circulating in forums. And those third-party fixes are quickly tested and evaluated by other knowledgeable users.
With commercial software, on the other hand, you're at the mercy of the software company. It may take the company weeks to admit there is a hole, much less fix it. At the very least, you can say that open source CRM software, as a class, is no more vulnerable than commercial software.
Myth #7: Open source doesn't scale
There was a time when this was true of most open source applications. It was especially true of the Linux operating system. However, it's not true anymore. In general, open source applications are at least as scalable as their commercial counterparts, thanks to cloud computing and SaaS. Unified Communications (UC) further encourages open source CRM vendors to scale better, since businesses want to enable an omnichannel experience for their users.
Of course, applications — both commercial and open source — differ in how far they scale, and it's very difficult to generalize. In the case of open source CRM, the packages aren't designed for very large deployments — yet. One of the characteristics of open source software, from Linux to CRM, is that it creeps upward over time as developers add more features and rework the software for larger and larger enterprises.
Myth #8: Open source is hard to use
The first wave of open source software was mostly written by experts (OK, geeks) who assumed a comparable level of geekdom on the part of the users. Much of the software (Apache, for example) was oriented towards programmers and network administrators and not toward individual users. Especially with the Linux applications, you often had to be comfortable with the technology in order to get the applications up and running. It wasn't impossible, as thousands of users proved, but it wasn't slip-the-disk-in-and-go.
That has changed radically as the open source community has developed. Today, a lot of open source software is as easy to sign up for and use as the best commercial programs. Open source CRM developers are paying more attention to properties such as the CRM pipeline, usability and the ability to integrate third-party applications.
Is open source CRM right for your business?
So, given all that, is open source software right for your company? Actually, that's the wrong question. It's like asking if Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Oracle or any other brand of software is what you need. The real question is: What do you need done? This is especially true in a category as diverse as open source CRM. Once you determine your business's needs, you can go searching for the right CRM software to accomplish them, taking into account price, performance and features. Just make sure you don't write off open source software based on myths.