Thursday, December 14, 2006

Open Source

As promised, I will now go off-topic. The subject for discussion is Open Source software.

First, I need to define this for you (bear with me if you already know what it is). From Wikipedia “Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials — typically, their source code”.

The concept of open-source can be applied to more than just computer software, for example it has also been applied to media other than computer programs, such as books, music and photos, e.g., by Creative Commons. It has also been applied in such fields as scientific and medical research (which I may try and blog on in the future).

For a more in depth analysis of the whole open source concept, I'll refer you to Wikipedia's entry.

However, amongst all the myriad advantages two major ones stand out. Firstly, it allows users/developers to build on previous developments to create new products to serve better or differently the community of end-users. Secondly, the end-product is free!

This blog is written on a machine running on an open-source and free operating system, Linux (version OpenSuse 10.1 for the techies). It's available as a commercially available system from Novell. How does Novell make any money from it, if it's also available for free? Basically by providing support contracts for large corporations who cannot afford to have any downtime. Novell also benefits from the hoards of non-Novell developers working on improving the product – they can then incorporate these improvements into their next commercial release. Additionally, if you have the free version, then there are lots of user and developer groups out there to help you.

Another big advantage is that because Linux is free, it is a lot less prone to viruses – the virus writers love to get at the mega-corporation making gi-normous fat profits that is Microsoft (henceforth MS).

I'm also using open-source software to write this blog – And to post to Blogger I use an open-source browser Seamonkey.

There are other issues that make me a fan open-source software ...

In “Third” World countries, such as ours, price and reliability issues are expensive. A ministry, NGO or private user ...

  • cannot afford legal copies of MS Office or MS Windows
  • cannot afford support contracts

  • cannot afford the dial-up Internet time to download latest and frequent security patches for MS products

  • cannot afford the anti-virus software

  • cannot afford the dial-up Internet time to download the updates to these products.

Many MS products are now requiring you to “authenticate” it over the Internet or by phone/fax – if you don't, it will stop working after a fixed period of time. All very well to stop piracy but ... expensive.

Why did piracy start? Because we cannot afford the original.

Many countries are now promoting the use of open-source software - Brazil, India etc. Certainly, it is a powerful tool in the push to promote Internet connectivity and hence access to information in poor (and not so poor) communities.

P.S. Just added a Creative Commons license to this blog. See the bottom of the page.


Jessica said...

Angus, I'll send this on to my dear husband, as he's a big fan of open source software. He works for BigCorp (though not MS) and finds that while engineers in general like open source software, the lawyers do not.... It seems to me that if these BigCorps want to expand into the fat markets waiting in the developing world, then they are going to have to change a few ideas. For myself, I like the idea for its democratic and cooperative aspect; though at the same time the practicalities can be daunting for a technical ignoramus. Where the Evil Empire wins is in making the surface use of its software simple for people like me - and that maybe is where the open source tech-heads might want to do a little thinking...?

Angus said...

Open source software is increasingly user friendly - however, I think the hardware manufacturers need to be convinced to sell their products with Linux etc already set up - so that the end-user is presented with a pre-configured and flawless machine.