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Open-Source Document Management: Pros and Cons

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Web-based, open-source document management software (DMS) is an efficient, cost-effective way to deploy data into the cloud and gain control over the many files, content and other types of information businesses store. Unlike proprietary systems, open-source software gives businesses more flexibility — it can be hosted anywhere, may be modified to suit the company's needs, and is typically free. Nonetheless, open-source DMS is not for everyone. Here are the pros and cons of Web-based, open-source document management software.

Pros of open-source document management software

Open-source DMS offers several advantages for businesses, particularly those who need more autonomy over their DMS systems.

Readily available

One of the benefits of open-source software is that it is easily obtainable. "If you’re looking to go open-source, sometimes all you have to do is visit the site and download the software and that's it," said Reuben Yonatan, chief executive officer at, an independent provider comparison website.

In contrast, proprietary vendors rarely list prices on their websites. They will likely require your contact information before providing a quote or guide, Yonatan said. Expect some back-and-forth with a sales representative before the program is actually installed.

With open-source DMS, you'll know exactly what you're getting and how much it is up front. It provides an immediate document management solution you can obtain and implement right when you need it — no sales talk necessary.

Free to try, easy to upgrade

For those unready to commit, free or low-cost open-source DMS provides an opportunity to test drive programs before purchasing full versions or investing in proprietary solutions.

"Many open-source products have additional features, like enterprise-grade storage space or hosted solutions," Yonatan said. These additional capabilities often come at a premium that companies are not able or willing to pay for just yet. "For many, it is a good fit to try open-source software first, then upgrade when the time is right."

Whether you're exploring DMS technology or shopping around for DMS solutions, open-source DMS is a great way to weigh your options in real-world situations.

Success of the open-source philosophy

Open-source technology is all about community involvement. While end-users don't actually have to do anything, open-source software is the result of one developer releasing the source code and other developers tweaking or expanding it to make the software better. This could be anything from enhancing the user experience to adding new features users will find useful.

"Open-source means that anyone can improve upon the success of the previous generation," according to Yonatan. In the long run, this shared knowledge and collective effort leads to better software from which all users can benefit.

Cons of open-source document management software

Despite its advantages, open-source DMS is not the best solution for everyone. If you require robust capabilities, tighter security and technical support, open-source solutions may not be for you.

Limited capabilities

One of the reasons companies prefer proprietary over open-source DMS is that proprietary systems give users more features, such as supporting a large number of users or the ability to integrate third party apps.

Dedan Green, principal at Everything's Technical, a Memphis, Tenn.-based IT services firm, said that free open-source solutions also typically have size limitations.

"Free-based software is free for a reason," Green said. "Usually, you are limited to the number of uploads or have to deal with water marks."

Security concerns

As with any other Web- or cloud-based solution, security is a chief concern for an organization. According to Green, when it comes to open-source document management, users "take the chance of going with a less secure program to store information."

Jon Lincoln, business development director for OfficeScope, a cloud-based content management solution for small businesses, agreed.

"With security being a major concern for many industries, organizations must keep in mind that most open-source document management systems do not encrypt the documents," Lincoln said. "If compliancy is a major concern for your organization or industry, then using an open-source document management will not be the right choice since it doesn't provide features that you may need to tap into to prove compliancy."

Lack of support

At the core of open-source programs is a do-it-yourself methodology, meaning users download, install and manage the software themselves. While this provides a degree of freedom and flexibility, the drawback is the lack of support from open-source providers. This is especially the case with free open-source DMS.

"While open-source is free and may be easy to deploy as a quick solution, it is also another way of saying 'you're alone,'" Lincoln said. "Many open-source products offer no technical help or customer service and it's probably a challenge to be connected to someone when you need help."

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