Tuesday, May 15, 2007/
Using open source software is a bit like cooking for yourself: difficult at first, but with practice it can take you to some interesting areas.
It occurred to me that my eating habits were so poor I risked dying of malnutrition, so I got my first recipe book. Actually my Mum bought it for me (thanks, Mum!). I had never been taught how to cook but I gave it a try and, as the years have gone past, I have improved. Today I cook probably 10 meals a fortnight, seven of which I have never cooked before and have chosen at random from a cookbook.
So the other night when we were at the local Chinese restaurant I started to wonder what the restaurant industry thought of recipe books. Clearly they are different business models, both chasing my food dollar.
This then led me to thinking: maybe this is what open source software is, rather than the great evil as it’s normally portrayed by mainstream software companies. Open source software is basically software that you can use for free and you can access the source code. The licensing means you can’t resell it, even if you alter it.
The mainstream software industry, comprising such companies as Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle, argue that because the programmers aren’t paid to produce open source software, there is no business model. Therefore if you support it, you will stifle innovation because no one will get paid, plus you will get a shoddy product as there is no champion to invest millions over years of product development.
My experience is quite different. Sure, there are no paid programmers producing the software, however there are a swathe of system administrators developing it for free, then being paid to support it. And I assure you, if you want to deploy a piece of open source software on a server, you will need to pay someone to help you do it and manage it in the future.
When I studied information technology in the 1980s there was basically only one type of computer person: “the computer person”. Today there are specialists: operators, system administrators, network engineers, programmers, database analysts, etc.
Open source software isn’t the devil, it is simply an aspect of competition between the programmers (who want to get paid to write the software) and the system administrators (who want to get paid to support the software).
From the user point of view it’s a bit like cooking for yourself. The first time you try it, it’s very scary, but after practice you realise its no big deal at all; in fact it will take you into some very interesting areas. A great place to start is www.sourceforge.net.
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