Don't worry, folks. We're not going to name names.
Never the less, there are certainly good choices for small business phone systems... and there are some not-so-good choices. Unfortunately, possibly the worst choice for a growing business is one that also looks very attractive up-front: open source software.
As with virtually everything else involving computers, there are free-to-download open source phone systems, which allow for the standard features, including VoIP and PBX routing. Unfortunately, utilizing these systems is significantly more complex than putting Linux on a laptop, and many smaller firms end up discovering free solutions end up creating plenty of costly new problems.
1 – There's no warranty. Now, don't get us wrong – popular open source projects are as safe as any other software, but that's the problem. Every piece of software is going to develop bugs from time to time. However, when you go with open source, there's no one who can be held responsible if something goes wrong and it damages your systems.
The user assumes 100% of the responsibility for anything that happens while using open source software, and that's a pretty big gamble when you're talking about your business's communication system and all the attached hardware.
2 – There's little support. Right alongside the lack of warranty, there's also no technical support except for volunteer online help forums. While many of these are filled with fine people, when your phone systems are down you probably don't want to spend hours reading Internet opinions on the problem.
You're going to want to be on the phone with someone getting it fixed, but that won't happen unless you're paying a third-party for support, eating into the cost savings.
3 – User-friendliness not included. Few, if any, open source projects are as easy to use as for-profit alternatives. This is actually more true for open telephone systems. The most popular one is actually just an architecture, which then requires you to obtain more software to run with it. Much of this software is sold by third-party vendors, further negating a lot of the advantages of “free” software.
There is, of course, certainly the option of hiring your own programmers, and that's what most companies using these systems do. They offer more power than most off-the-shelf solutions, but it's power that only larger businesses can even make use of. At the smaller end of the market, they're just harder to use.
4 – You'll need better tech staff. Modern telephone operating systems are designed to be user-friendly enough that basic Windows familiarity is all that's needed to run them. They have more advanced options, like a command line, but they're fundamentally designed to be used by businesses who'd rather not hire pricey tech staff.
The open source telecom systems, however, require advanced technical knowledge to make use of. They're not “out of the box” solutions.
5 – New hardware is slow to be supported.
Open source is often pitched as a solution for companies on older hardware, but that's because it's often slow to adopt new hardware. Writing drivers and patching compatibility bugs takes time, plus that requires a programmer contributing to the project who has the same hardware as you, which isn't guaranteed. Open source software makes it more difficult to plan a clear upgrade path, because your choices are going to be limited to hardware on the market that your software can support.
Play It Safe With Your Small Business Phone Systems
For businesses in certain situations, with the right level of expertise on-hand, open source solutions can be leveraged successfully. However, for an average growing business that just wants a working phone system, open source is simply more trouble than it's worth.
Or, if it's time for phone system upgrades, just drop us a line!