[ This post originally appeared on Slaw.ca, November 12, 2013 ]
Law firms are spoiled for choice when it comes to cloud computing services. You can place any or all of your practice technology somewhere other than your office. The maturing of the cloud world, and the seemingly endless proliferation of open source software, create additional options. If you are on the fence about where your information lives, these may push you over.
A challenge of using cloud or hosted Web services is the same kind of change that occurs on your desktop. Companies shut down products, change their business model and start charging for something that was free, or go out of business altogether. When your information is on someone else’s hardware, however, you may be faced with finding a new option.
A good, if narrow, example of this is Google Reader. Shaunna Mireau has done a good job of covering the demise of this information pro tool elsewhere on Slaw. Google Reader users hashed out many possible alternatives in Web discussions and many went to another cloud reader, like Feedly. But some decided to serve themselves with open source Tiny Tiny RSS.
Tiny Tiny is free to acquire and is installed on a server that you control. It might be in your office or you might have a Web or in-country cloud hosting service that provides you with the infrastructure. Like many open source projects, you’re on your own to get it installed, with possible help coming from the community of other users, some of whom also contribute to the development of the software.
As I said, this is a narrow case. But the result is that you create a stable information platform that has features (privacy, the ability to create multiple users, and do some internal sharing ) you might not have on a commercial site. It gives you some additional control over what you use, and how.
Since many open source projects rely on the same underlying open source technology, a solo or small firm can get just as much benefit out of it as a larger firm. Someone with a bit of technology chops can quickly follow the recipe-like instructions to get an application like Tiny Tiny up and running or you can pass it off to your IT support for the 30-60 minutes of labor involved.
A broader case might be an alternative to file synchronization services like Dropbox or Box. You might consider using ownCloud or Pydio (f/k/a AjaXplorer). Each offers a locally installable, open source file synchronization and storage service that supports multiple accounts. Both have a paid enterprise version, with additional support, but the community version is free. You can have an Android or iOS app to access your files with either one. If issues of server location or security have held you up from using a service like Dropbox or Box, these can give you some greater latitude.
When you are considering your options when trying to solve a technology problem, dig a bit to see if there is an open source alternative to the commercial products. Open source is not a panacea and comes with its own challenges – a project can stop development, and it still requires you or your IT support to manage and maintain it – but it can be another option to put in the hopper as you decide what’s best for your technology needs.
The growth of cloud computing and open source development appears to be stronger than ever and opening doors that may not have been there the last time you looked. They offer chances to blend cloud and local control so that you can keep your marbles, but not necessarily just to walk away.