Ramblings on Small Business Technology

Open Source Software

I have recently become a big proponent of Open Source software.  What is Open Source – it is software that is (usually) developed by a community of people (as opposed to a specific company).  The “open” comes from the publication and modification rights, which usually specify that the source code for the software is freely available and can be used, modified, or repurposed – as long as the result is also “open” (most Open Source projects are released under the GNU Public License (GPL)).

What does this mean for you? It usually means that the software is : 1) more robust (due to the larger number of community developers), 2) free (since no one company is profiting off the development), and 3) less platform-specific (since many developers mean many different preferences for platforms).  For most people, Linux (an open source variant of Unix) is synonomous with the open source “movement”.  But there are open source packages for many different applications.  For example,  this blog is powered by WordPress, an open source blogging package.  The “LAMP stack” (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) is a popular web and application server that is all open source.  I also use OpenVPN as a way to connect back to my network (and pretty much do anything I need to do!) when I am out of my physical office.  There is also Nagios, an open source network and host monitoring system, and SugarCRM, an open source competitor to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and salesforce.com.  And these are just the ones that I have used!  There are hundreds more.

Coming from a predominantly Microsoft-based corporate environment, I embraced most Microsoft products as inevitabilities.  But lately, I’ve discovered that there ARE viable alternatives that are just as capable (and sometimes moreso, since Microsoft tends to intimidate market share rather than to lead with innovation).  There is even a very capable alternative to the 800 pound gorilla that is Microsoft Office (Open Office).

Open Source software is not always free to end users and customers, since most require some effort to install, implement and customize, as well as support.  One of the penalties (if you choose to see it that way) is that open source software doesn’t come with a “one-click” installer (like a lot of commercial software) – that’s usually because installers are usually very limiting and open source packages are usually very flexible.  Also, there are business models where companies have grown around enhancing and selling services around open source software.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because many of these open source model companies have products and services that are stellar in comparison to their commercial equivalents, for a fraction of the price.

I encourage you to embrace Open Source – I sure have!

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