What does open source mean for me?
For everyone, open source software means not having to pay license fees to use software. The implications of this vary depending on the context.
- At present, open source software is perhaps of least interest to the average non-technical home user, except in a few circumstances. These are primarily in legally acquiring free software to work with your Windows and Macintosh computers and perhaps help improve your situation with respect to viruses, unwanted pop-ups, spyware and adware.
- If you are a technical home-user or computer hobbyist, open source is a boon. You can legally get much of the software you want for free and also securely lock down your PC to prevent the ever increasing volume of online nasties.
- It's harder to offer an explanation of what a concept is rather than trying to explain something concrete. So, rather than explaining an idea like 'open source software', let's look at an actual real example of open source software and draw references from that. Linux is the most well known open source software platform.
- A recent article in Newsday did a good job of explaining Linux to the general public, so rather than start from scratch, let's quote a bit of that and give a link to the whole article
I'm in small-medium business.
What does open source software mean for small business?
- For starters, it is an alternative option to what you may use at present.
- Save money. Open source software is available for free; you only pay for product support or product packaging, manuals and training. In most senses, it's not that different to what you may presently be using.
- Reduce risks. Open source platforms like FreeBSD and Linux are not susceptible to the great majority of viruses, adware and spyware and other malware that affect Windows.
- Improve stability. Statistics accumulated over many years for various Internet systems indicated that open source platforms are much more reliable and robust than the Windows systems you are presently using. Reliability in business helps improve your bottom line.
- Competition which benefits the technology consumer. Open source software is available from more than one vendor. Think of it like the Internet or the PC hardware market. You can connect to the Internet from any if many hundsred ISPs and the interoperability allows you to enjoy essentially the same experience, even though the ISPs are competing with each other. Much the same occurs in the PC computer hardware arena, where you can buy and mix-n-match hardware from many hundreds of vendors. Similarly, popular open source software such as Linux is available from perhaps over 200 separate business and community groups. This fosters considerable competition. However, as the core software is all open source, the interoperability remains with the software, meaning that you can switch from one vendor to another when you decide that's best for your small business
I'm in a corporate environment.
- As with small-business, corporates can save both in terms eliminating licence fees for software which can be replaced with open source equivalents, reduced security risk, enhanced reliability and increased power to negotiate with your technology vendors.
- Open source software is the only method by which your firm can regain control of its software situation.
- At present, the corporate environment is perhaps the best-placed to make very widespread use of open source software, from mission-critical servers, through edge-of-network servers and locked-down corporate desktops.
- Increases competition amongst vendors, When you adopt an open source program or platform, you are adopting an open commodity. All vendors can support it equally. All vendors can compete equally. No single vendor has control.
- Increases local industry development. Instead of shipping money overseas for licences, we can make government IT budgets pay for local support and adaptation of open source software. Remember, local indigenous firms have as much wherewithal and right to extend and improve open source software as anyone else, opening the door for them to offer these services to government.
- Reduces our balance of trade defecit. Software constitutes around $3 billion of the annual $15 billion (and growing) ICT balance of trade defecit. (You will note that this figure makes up around 65% of our total national defecit, which makes it an incredible figure!) Open source software can be used to replace around 20% of this figure, essentially that base of software which has now been commoditised. This helps reduce our trade balance figures.
- Increase government control of its own IT. Consumers of open source software are beholden to no vendor. The larger the consumer, the more valid this truism
- Improved ability to support open document standards. Open source does not necessarily denote open standards, but it greatly increases the likelihood that open standards will be complied with. The reason for this is simple. The main reason why totally open standards, document formats and protocols are not provided in proprietary solutions is that the publishers/vendors of those solutions gain increased likelihood of greater ongoing 'rental' revenues if they can lock consumers into a product, which is much easier to do with proprietary data and document formats and protocols. This is even more likely with patent-encumbered variants of these, as providing interoperable alternatives may prove legally impossible.
- Avoid re-inventing the wheel. How does open source do this? let's show by way of an example. Imagine that you are the state government body tasked with tracking drivers licences. You need to track who's got one; who's learning one and who's not supposed to get one. Let's say you fund the development of such a complex, watertight application and enjoy its use. Now, your core business is not selling software; it's managing your state's drivers licence programme. What do you do with the code? Could you perhaps offer it, openly and for free, to your sister organisations around the rest of the country? For starters, they would likely have many of the same business-rule requirements that you do, so much of the codebase could be re-used. Yes, but what would you get out of such a deal? Could they perhaps offer back their extensions, corrections and improvements? Could they help share future development costs? This, in essence, is how good open source sharing in government can work. It is real and an excellent business case can be made for it. It's also a way to stop wasting taxpayer money, and perhaps contribute something back to the taxpayers, through offering such developed codebases into the commons.
In Education open source software:
- Can offer efficiencies in administration (much as for business)
- Can provide economical classroom computing solutions
- Can support an IT curriculum based around computing standards and techniques rather than specific software products.
- Legal safety. Elimination of the legal risks which always arise when proprietary software is present in a school environment, as students can legally make copies of open source software.
- Peek into the machine. Excellent method of introducing ICT students to how real programs work and how real programmers construct software. It is akin to students being privvy to how artists paint and how engineers design bridges; they can literally see how a programmer codes and watch the evolution of a program's codebase.
- Substantial pedagogical advantages. A student does not know what a word processor is unless he or she has used more than one. The same applies for all core applications.
- Offers a broader range of software to all schools. Does your school want to teach SQL database essentials but can't afford a database server licence for each student? How about high-end graphics packages, or maybe video editing software or 3D animation software. All such applications are available as open source instantiations and all at zero cost.
- Cost. The prices of proprietary software may or may not have gone up over the years, but the licencing terms have been made far more restrictive. Widespread adoption of open source software can remove the risk that such licence terms will be made even more restrictive in future. Hedge your bets.
- If you are in a technical faculty, then there is no better, no more available nor more affordable platform to conduct any manner of technical computing than open source. Most of the world's super computers now run on open source operating systems. Most of the world's leading computer, physical and biological research applications are now open source.