In the ILTA 2011 session on Open Source Gurus, self-proclaimed geeks gathered to share their experiences of using open source software in the law firm environment. Topics of discussion varied, from challenges in implementing open source software to cost savings realized from going with an open source solution versus a commercial one.

Panelists included: Nathan Smith, network manager at McKee, Voorhees & Sease; Lance Rea, CIO at Davis & Gilbert LLP; Dale Qualls, director of IT at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, and; Jerry Askew, principle consultant at Network Solutions. They took the stage to discuss their individual experiences with open source software.

The majority of the session centered on sharing of a list of favorite open source software currently being used at the panelists’ firms:

ProjectPier – is Linux-based project management software which boasts an intuitive interface for managing tasks, projects, and teams through a web browser.

OpenVPN – is a web-based, open source VPN software with very reasonable pricing. Clients are available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Panelists agreed that software performance has improved significantly in recent versions and that it is a viable, inexpensive solution for creating a VPN at a smaller firm.

ZoneMinder – is an open source video camera and surveillance system which works with most off-the-shelf cameras. The panel commented that the system is very feature-rich, with advanced capabilities like motion detection and split-screen images.

WebCDwriter – Lets users burn CDs from anywhere on your network to a shared CD or DVD burner. One of the panelists commented that this application is very useful for his firm, where many systems no longer include an optical drive.

JBackpack – A personal backup program which allows users to run their own incremental backups by using a simple, Java-based interface. Backup is increasingly important at law firms, and some panelists found that giving users control to store and retrieve their own files led to less downtime in the event of a data loss.

Zend.To – is a file transfer program for sending large files across a network without using email. One of the more unusual features is that it can integrate with active directory. With email restrictions becoming increasingly strict at law firms, this software can be a simple solution to large file transfers.

Bates Master – A solution for Bates-stamping PDFs. – A free eDiscovery tool which can pull data from a variety of sources and quickly process them. The panel mentioned that the website has the Enron data posted for users to test out the software.

Synergy – Allows a user to manage multiple computers and monitors using the same keyboard and mouse. The connected machines don’t have to be on the same operating system, and no special hardware is required. This tool is popular among system administrators who constantly split time between computers.

OpenWRT – A widely popular open source router firmware, which allows a tech-savvy user to replace a router’s built-in firmware to gain deep control over their router’s hardware. By utilizing this firmware a systems administrator could effectively save money by adding features to cheaper routers.

The session wrapped up with a discussion of success rates of open source projects. Overwhelmingly, the responses were positive, but panelists cautioned that the right tool for the job should always be selected. The best method for selecting software, they said, is to work backward from end-user needs and then work within budgetary constraints. Sometimes open source tools fit the bill perfectly; other times, a commercial solution is more appropriate.

One final comment seemed to resonate well with the audience: “The thing I like about open source is I don’t need to spend anything to try it out. I can install it right away and see if it works for my firm. If it doesn’t, I can always buy the right solution later.”

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