Open Source Is Not the Same As An Open Service

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Companies need the freedom to get at their data, to choose hosted or in-house options and more. All this can be found amongst open source solutions – but  choose carefully, says Jason Brooks

I recently pointed out that while Google’s excellent messaging and calendar services are available at low or no cost, Microsoft’s Exchange is, in some significant ways, more free than Gmail.

That’s because while Gmail is an excellent application, it’s shadowed somewhat by the spectre of lock-in: the friction that stops you from moving from something that’s not working to something that would work better. Specifically, you can’t adopt Google’s Apps without yourself becoming a ward of Google’s data centres.

Sure, Google offers ample means of backing up or migrating away your data, and email, with its mature protocols and formats, is particularly migration-friendly. However, even assuming perfect data migration, the fact that you can’t fire your ops provider and take the application itself with you is a definite friction point.

Changing applications means extra work

Organisations develop processes around particular application features, and moving between applications involves at least retraining, and at most redesigning or scrapping some of these processes and habits.

In contrast, Microsoft’s Exchange offers – in addition to all the data portability to which e-mail is heir – a breadth of ops provider options that Google can’t match.

Surprisingly, I was taken to task for the “free as in Exchange” remark that closed my column by an eWEEK reader who rightly pointed out that Microsoft’s Exchange invites plenty of lock-in, particularly on the OS and processor architecture levels.

I must confess that I chose Exchange as my paragon of freedom and flexibility mostly for rhetorical value – I think the comparison highlights well the competitive challenge faced by Google in the enterprise space. Strictly speaking, there are messaging and calendar options much more deserving of the mantle of freedom.