By eWeek Editors  |  Posted 2002-07-08 Print this article Print

-Side Software"> Client-Side Software

Client-side open-source applications offer many benefits to enterprises countenancing their adoption. Its certainly possible to outfit a mainstream corporate desktop with a complete set of open-source productivity, messaging, Internet and multimedia applications—all at a cost significantly smaller than with closed-source software equivalents.

However, software licenses arent the only cost associated with running client applications in an enterprise, and depending on the open-source application under investigation, various hassles and limitations can render "free" software as dear to deploy as the closed-source competition.

In addition to software licensing savings, open-source client applications often enjoy a wider range of platform and internationalization support than do their closed-source counterparts. The open-source productivity suite ships with support for Windows, Linux, Mac OS and Solaris, and the open-source Mozilla Web browser supports these and quite a few other platforms. Whats more, both Mozilla and present users with a common interface across these platforms.

Source code for open-source applications is freely available, enabling companies to customize applications for their needs and to take advantage of the customizations and extensions that others have developed. Also, open file formats (such as OpenOffice.orgs XML-based format) can insulate companies from technology lock-in—a definite plus for sites that standardize on either of these products.

Of course, this brings up one of these products major liabilities: More than 90 percent of businesses have already standardized on Microsofts Office and Internet Explorer. In eWeek Labs tests, mostly met the challenge of interoperating with Office files, but its up to enterprise management to mandate the use of common-subset file formats—eschewing the use of esoteric Office features—or tolerate a continued Microsoft advantage.

The same goes for Mozilla, which boasts excellent standards support but faces daily compatibility hurdles in a Web increasingly optimized for Internet Explorer and ActiveX.

Likewise, when it comes to messaging, open-source e-mail applications such as Evolution and Slypheed deliver a solid user experience but lack native support for Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino mail protocols which power most corporate messaging solutions.

CodeWeavers Inc.s Crossover Office and Crossover Plugin products (both of which are based on the open-source Windows compatibility software called Wine) offer work-arounds for running Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and a variety of Windows-only Internet plug-ins on Unix-based systems, but these products behave unpredictably at times and lack the reliability of a native solution.

Beyond compatibility limitations, open-source applications typically offer only a subset of the functionality of rival closed-source products. Mozilla is probably the only client-side, open-source application weve tested that meets and, at times, exceeds the polish and functionality of its closed-source counterpart.

For example, GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a very good image manipulation application, but it does not match the feature set of Adobe Systems Inc.s Photoshop. However, more is not always better—or at least enough better—to justify cost differences on the order of hundreds of dollars per seat. —Jason Brooks


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