The pros and cons of switching to free and open-source digital tools and software

Open-source software and creative commons-licensed materials offer important opportunities for the smaller organisation to enhance their digital capabilities. But are there drawbacks with such free resources? This guide provides definitions and examples along with a review of what to consider when using open-source and creative commons software and materials.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
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Image courtesy of VisitBritain © Ben Selway

The pros and cons of switching to free and open-source digital tools and software

1. Introduction

Creative commons in relation to digital materials and open-source software are useful resources for heritage organisations. Using freely available materials such as images, music and computer applications may provide significant savings on licensing fees. Your organisation can also create digital content which you may then choose to make openly available to others, especially if the materials are of significant public interest. is a non-profit organization which aims to help overcome legal obstacles in sharing digital content by creating licences for the use of text, music, and digital images. Through the Creative Commons, the copyright owner of a work may make it available for public use in a variety of ways subject to various conditions such as crediting the original creator.

For example, a search on using the term ‘Heritage’ returns over 10,000 results. This provides a relatively simple way to share your collections or creative outputs with the wider public. At the same time, you can also consider using different licenses to encourage others to re-use your images or other material in creative projects.

In this resource, our expert Ruth Daly, University of Leeds, explains how you might use open-source materials and technologies within your organisation.

Web page showing results of a image search using keyword “Heritage” on the CreativeCommons website
Web page showing results of a image search using keyword “Heritage” on the CreativeCommons website.


2. Open-source software

In addition to creative commons-licensed media, the use of open-source alternatives to branded computer software can also generate considerable cost savings. The term ‘open source’ refers to the fact that the source code for the software is made publicly available. This doesn’t always mean that the software is free to use, but open-source software may certainly be a much cheaper alternative.

Another key benefit of switching to open-source software is the communities and forums of support related to popular products which may feature mailing lists, online help and even live chat functions. For organisations wishing to explore modifications to functionality, the open-source nature means that code can be added to and changed to provide a more bespoke user interface, the addition of logos, or other improved and additional functions.

The drawbacks may be that the software could be more difficult to learn and use, or the user interface may not look as well designed as more established commercial products.

While some open-source products have been running for many years and have built a large community of developers and contributors, others may be less popular and as a result some projects are not maintained and so lack continued development.

Pros and cons of open-source software


  • Low cost.
  • Community support.
  • Easily customised.


  • May be difficult to use.
  • May lack development.


3. Options to explore

If you decide to use open-source software there are plenty of options available. Below are some popular software options for different functions which you could consider.

Open-source alternatives to the Windows operating system

Open-source productivity software

Office productivity suites:

CRM software:

Project management:



Further resources

More help here

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Key sources of support and advice when deciding on which software and digital services are suitable for your organisation

This guide outlines some key sources of information available to support your decision making on the suitability and application of new technology and digital services.

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Tools and resources to keep up-to-date with emerging digital trends

Keeping up with digital trends can be daunting for a small to medium-sized heritage organisation. Limitations on your time and budget make it challenging to research and understand which emerging digital activity might be of interest or benefit to your organisation. This guide aims to signpost tools and resources you can access to keep abreast on what’s new in digital.


Browse related resources by smart tags:

Content creation Creative commons Open source
Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "The pros and cons of switching to free and open-source digital tools and software (2022) by Dr Ruth Daly supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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