In my 2009 predictions for eLearn Magazine I said that “There will be an increased interest in open source software as well as tools and methods that enable online collaboration.” Ryan Cameron took me to task on open source in the comments:
Open source is not, actually, free. Someone has to build it, someone has to maintain it. Open source is simply transferring an up front and usually meagre licence fee for a long term highly specialized labour cost, which in many cases ends up creating situations where organizations are completely hamstrung by their IT department/gurus.
I agree, OS is not free, however it is free of licensing fees and free from many other licensing constraints of proprietary systems. If it is GPL it is free to hack, modify or build upon, with some restrictions.
My research and experience over the years shows open source, especially in training and education, to be significantly cheaper. One example is a Moodle installation that had a total cost of ownership at 3-10% of the compared proprietary system. Another example of open source versus a proprietary learning management system showed a savings of $345,000. Here’s a study from the Quebec Provincial Department of Education that showed savings of 59-75% over 5 years.
While OS is not free, and does incur some costs for implementation and support, I have yet to find examples where open source learning management systems cost more than proprietary ones. An OS learning management system may not meet all your needs, but it won’t be because it costs too much.