As you probably know, much of my background is in open source software. I have written or contributed to many Free and open source software projects, and more recently have discussed usability in open source software. On this blog, I've discussed open source software many times: questions to ask yourself when looking to open source software, integrating open source software into your operations, open source software on campus.
I'm encouraged to see open source being discussed in trade magazines. In November, University Business continued to raise awareness with an article that busts myths about open source software. The myths:
- If you use open source, you're on your own. (False)
- Open source gurus are tough to find — and they eat up IT budgets. (False)
- Open source costs nothing, but it's also expensive. (False)
- Open source is highly insecure, and also bulletproof. (False)
- Open source is ideal for every institutional project. (False)
- Open source makes your institution into a technology island. (False)
- Commercial software and open source don't play well together. (False)
If you use open source software, you often can find robust support channels through companies such as Red Hat Software, Modo, and rSmart. Where corporate sponsored support does not exist, you can also find support via the development community. Post a question on their forums or email lists and someone can usually help you out. And if we're really being honest with ourselves, don't we usually do that anyway when we have problems with software from "big name" firms such as Microsoft and Oracle?
If you need direct support from someone on-site, you can easily hire that knowledge using a "rich ecosystem of contractors and service vendors that allows for an a la carte selection of developers, consultants, and support personnel."
Open source software is built on top of standards, which encourages competition and interoperability between systems. Through these standards, open source software and commercial systems can talk to each other seamlessly. In The World is Flat, author Thomas L. Friedman refers to this as a "flattener":
"The great thing about HTML, HTTP, TCP/IP, XML and SOAP is that once they were adopted as standards — and everything and everyone became interoperable and interconnected — software companies stopped competing over who got to control the fire hydrant nozzles and focused on who could make better hoses and fire trucks to pump more water. Once a standard takes hold, people start to focus on the quality of what they are doing as opposed to how they are doing it." (84)
So if you're an IT Director or CIO, don't dismiss open source software. Open source software can give you a competitive advantage as a way to advance your campus, especially in the current climate of shrinking budgets but increasing demands.