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Moving into the open

01 Feb 2010

Why you should consider moving to open source. To open source or not to open source: that is the question. While there are as many proponents as opponents, it cannot be disputed that operating systems are getting lighter and applications more cloud orientated. So why not move to a system that is lower cost and lighter on your machine? While there are still some questions around total cost of ownership, many businesses and schools are making the shift. Open source is software whose source code is available for people to use, change and redistribute. This is quite different from most proprietary software that doesn't allow access to the source code, let alone changes to it. The arguments for and against can be quite emotive. Open source is often considered not only a development methodology but also a philosophy by its community. On the flip side, opponents claim it is anti-business. Either way, there are plenty of organisations growing their businesses by using, developing and selling open source software. So should you be moving your business to open source? Proponents will tell you the cost of software is lower, licences are easier to manage and proprietary formats lead to vendor lock-in. Opponents will tell you some software isn't compatible with open source, the total cost of ownership is higher and proprietary software has more features. Both sides have reasonable arguments – the initial cost of open source software is lower, but the cost of training and ongoing support can be higher on systems that people are unfamiliar using. It's not that the software is difficult; it just may not behave quite the same way as your end users are accustomed to, and every support call, no matter how simple, will cost you money and time. It's true that some major applications are not yet compatible with open source, but check and see if there are alternatives. Almost everything your end users need to do during their day can be completed on open source and/or cloud applications. Proprietary software can have more features after years of development and for some external devices like cameras, plug-and-play is more likely to work straight out of the box. You need to consider what features of a given application you actually need.As an example, our household runs a mix of open source and proprietary operating systems. We are fairly standard in our needs for desktop publishing, photo editing and playing media. When we moved one of our desktop machines to open source, we installed the operating system from the CD with no problems at all. On the other hand, recently the same process on my little netbook resulted in a few driver-related hiccoughs. It was nothing major, but it is a small red flag that open source isn't always consumer-friendly out of the box. However, I do now have a beautiful lightweight system with a fantastic user interface that does everything I need it to do, so it was worth the effort. So should you be starting a test of open source software on your own desktop? Yes. Should you get a small group within your organisation to start exploring the possibilities? Yes. Should you be talking to some of the large open source IT development shops? Yes. You should be investigating the potential of open source software because it will be driving the IT world forward for some time to come. Open source operating systems and software are intrinsically tied to the future of the development of the internet and web-based applications. Open source software, combined with open application programming interfaces, is what the global community is interested in developing and leveraging right now. Expect to see much more in the headlines about large businesses and organisations moving to open source software.