Some myths around open source

The following is just not true about open source software:

  • Open Source is always FREE;
  • FREE is always inferior;
  • Open Source is always appropriate;
  • Open Source is for technology hippies and layabouts who don’t want to spend money on the real thing;
  • Open source is limited to linux and it’s variations.

While the majority of open source software appears to be FREE there are some amazing products that are open-source BUT not FREE. Microsoft even claim to have open source ERP systems.

Just because you don’t pay for something does not mean it does not have value. One of the easiest ways it to try and equate the value of say Gmail to your local email provider. With Gmail you get: SPAM filtering and prevention (value?), backups of your email (value?), hardware to leave your emails on (value?), 24/7 support (questionable value) sometimes. Now Gmail is not an open source solution but rather a FREE solution – I use it just to make a point. Take Ubuntu Linux distribution as FREE open source software. Within the Ubuntu suite of products you will find servers and desktop operating systems that rival the best in the world. They are secure, user friendly and very relevant AND they are free. You can download them for free, you get free updates, security advisories and new versions. They even have proper deployment and version plans with long term support for enterprises who don’t want to be on the bleeding edge of technology AND you are free to change whatever you want in the kernel, the applications and any of the utilities. Pretty neat I’d say.

Just because you can get all this open source stuff it does not always follow that it is appropriate to insist on open source. There may be time when you want an application that is not open source and does not need to be – think of it more as an appliance – it is used for a specific purpose, there may be many variations or options available to perform the same task and your life is by no means inconvenienced because you can’t see the source code. It is perfectly acceptable to be using ‘closed’ software for a variety of tasks – as long as you have considered all your requirements, there is only your preference – the rest is opinion and conjecture 🙂

If you think you are not going to spend money implementing open source software then you may just be the best techie ever. I think the association of people dabbling in DIY with open-source has given the open source community an image of back-room shed techies who sleep by day and drool by night. This can be no further from the truth – just take a look at Canonical, Sun and even Google and see the effort that people put in to ensure the systems are world class.

Finally, any system can be classified as open source if the developers readily supply you with the code for the system. This is not a phenomenon that is banished to the Linux world at all.