Is an Open Source Low-Code Platform Really Right for You?

Is an Open Source Low-Code Platform Really Right for You?

Neil Miller

January 3rd, 2019 Low Code  

The need for new applications will continue to grow dramatically over the next few years as software makes its march to eat up the known world.

But IT departments at most organizations are stuck with two options: buy the best tool available on the marketplace, or build it from scratch.

The buy option is great if you find the perfect product since the cost of using someone else’s software is generally much cheaper than building your own. You can be up and running in a matter of days. However, you are stuck with what the vendor gives you. No matter what they promise in a product roadmap, you never know how the product (and the pricing) will change.

If you have a very specific use case or need something more tailored, your best option has always been to build it yourself. But this is very time- and talent-intensive and requirements often change a lot during the development cycle.

open source low code

Benefits of Low-Code Platforms

IT teams across the world are finding a better solution called low-code development platforms. Low-code platforms remove the need for intense line-by-line coding and instead replace it with visual tools you can drag and drop. These platforms allow developers to work faster, build applications with fewer errors, and even open the door to citizen developers (business users with a knack for technology) to make their own applications, in addition to many other benefits.

Low-code also fights shadow IT, when users build/find and manage their own software outside of the knowledge and control of IT. By producing applications faster, low-code lets IT teams stay on top of what is used in the company.

Learn more about low-code platforms here.

Recent reports from IT departments show that 34 percent of respondents are already using a low-code platform, with another 9 percent ready to start. Forrester reports that 40 percent of IT leaders have been able to see notable or significant improvement in how they meet the demand of custom app development with low-code.

Low-Code vs. Open Source

Before low-code platforms came on strong, many IT departments used open source software. Open source software is generally free to download and run on your own server. The software might be released from a company that doesn’t have plans to market and sell it, or it may be essentially a free trial before adding on other paid features. Open source software allows programmers to have a jumpstart when building custom applications.

Low-code platforms are different from open source software because you still start from scratch on a low-code platform (although many provide helpful templates), and you are building the apps visually. Even if you use open source software, you still need to go in and change things line-by-line with code. In a low-code environment, many of these changes happen graphically through drag-and-drop tools.

Of course, you can also have an open source low-code platform.

A low-code open source platform is released in the same spirit as other open source tools. Some offer the core system as open source and then sell you add-ons later if you require. Others give a “forever free” community version that is unsupported by the vendor but allows you to have a perpetual free trial until you really want to use it across the business. Open source low-code platforms are a bit rare, but can be found and might be a good solution.

Open Source vs. Licensed Low-Code Software

Open source low-code platforms have a lot of advantages, the main one being they are extremely affordable compared to other options. They can be customized heavily, and many of the true open source versions have very reasonably priced add-ons as well.

However, low-code open source tools are really only for the extremely serious programmer. It takes a lot of work to customize a low-code development open source platform, and how many developers out there want to spend time working on someone else’s platform so that they can then make other applications faster? They can work, but only in very specific cases when you have the right and committed talent.

Licensed low-code software makes more sense because the whole reason you need low-code is to build apps faster. So, if you are spending all your time fiddling with an open-source product, you lose the value. Licensed also means better support and a more polished product that can not only give your developers a breath of fresh air but also opens the door for citizen developers to potentially use the platform.

The downside of licensed low-code platforms is mostly the cost and the fact that different platforms will charge in different ways. Some will charge per application you want to make, others for how many developer accounts and others based on usage or users of the app.

In the end, choosing a licensed version vs an open source low-code platform makes the most sense.

Types of Low-Code Platforms

Before you run out and download the first open source low-code platform you can find, be aware that there are different types.

General purpose low-code platforms can make just about any kind of application you could dream of but are usually the hardest to use for non-IT developers.

Some low-code platforms are specific to where the application will be run. For example, you may find platforms that are exclusively for web-based applications, or for mobile applications.

Still others (like Kissflow) specialize in a particular use case like workflows and process automation.

Not every use case has an open source option. Before you pick out an open source low-code platform, make sure you can build what you want to with it and that you understand the limitations of the open source option. Are there restricted features? Are there limited seats? What are the paid features? How soon will you need them?

Looking for a Low-Code Process Automation Platform?

Kissflow is a great option if you fall into these categories:

  1. You want to keep costs down, but you don’t want to mess with customizing an open source tool.
  2. You are primarily building process automation applications that rely on workflows, forms, and databases.
  3. You want to include citizen developers in the process to further expedite application creation.

Try Kissflow for free and see what kind of difference it can make for you!