Open Source, Good
Open Source, GoodPublished By: OSS-Zine
Would you consider purchasing a company that wouldn't open their financial records to you? No, of course you wouldn't. Yet every day, companies around the world spend billions of dollars on software technologies that they can't open to see what's inside. Your business depends on these technologies; doesn't it make sense to know what's inside?
Anybody who uses the Internet, uses open source software whether they know it or not. Most web sites (about 65%) run on the open source Apache web server. Most domains (about 90%) are controlled by the open source BIND domain name server. Most email (about 76%) is handled by the open source Sendmail server. And most web browsers (about 99%) are based upon the open source Mozilla web browser. And the list goes on.
Even with this impressive list of software, many people have never heard the term "open source" before, and if they have, they may not know what it means. Simply put it usually means that the software is free, can be distributed, and can be altered.
There are many types of licenses that can be attached to software packages. The following is a table that represents your typical rights under common licenses.
The number one "business" reason for going with a piece of free software (open source or otherwise) is cost savings. Sure there are support fees with many open source packages, but there are also support fees that go with many commercial software packages as well. If you're paying for commercial software, shouldn't support be free? In the open source world, you only pay if you can't support it yourself. And even then, it's typically less than the support fees of one of the commercial giants.
Open source projects have great community support. This means that if you need a question answered, you can get great help from the others that are using the product. In most cases, you'll get an answer from the community before you'd even get a warm body from a typical commercial help line.
Though some open source software is not as feature rich as its commercial counterparts, almost all open source software shares one incredible truth: robustness. Because the source code is available for all to see, many bugs and security holes are found, reported, and fixed in near real time. This means that the software is typically very stable and very secure. Most IT managers agree that products like Internet Explorer and IIS (we're not trying to pick on Microsoft, but those two have popped up frequently in the press lately) are feature rich, but leave much to be desired on the robustness and security scales.
On occasion, especially in rough economic conditions, companies go out of business. No one likes to see that happen, but it's a fact of life. If a software vendor goes out of business, it can mean a huge mess for an IT department to deal with. Open source companies are just as vulnerable during economic duress as commercial providers, but their software is not. Should an open source provider go out of business two things can and do happen: 1) The open source community continues the development of the product even after the demise of the company. 2) If all else fails, an IT staff can continue to support the software themselves or with the help of consultants, because they have the source code.
Many of the largest companies around the world have started to realize the strengths of open source. Companies like IBM, Sun, Merrill Lynch, Motorola, Yahoo! and even NASA have all begun to adopt open source into their culture. In addition, several countries have adopted open source and some have even passed laws that require open source to be considered in any software evaluation.
With all the benefits of open source software, the only question that remains is, “Why aren't you using open source?” If you're still not convinced that open source is good for business, check out this list of articles and success stories:
- A recent global wave of legislation is compelling government agencies, and in some cases government-owned companies, to use open source or free software unless proprietary software is the only feasible option.
- The software used by the German government to handle the results of the Bundestag election (that's the national parliament) will be based on the open source platforms of Java, Tomcat, JBoss, and MySQL.
- The Census Bureau's web development team has relied on the MySQL database server, as well as other open-source software such as Perl, Apache, Linux and PHP, to develop these highly-acclaimed and extraordinarily successful web sites.
- The release of the Nautilus graphical shell and file manager was entirely unremarkable except for one small fact: the company that created it, ceased operations more than three months prior to its release.