Puget Sound Technology
What is open source? Why use open source software?

Many consider "free" software to be either stolen, low-featured, problem-ridden, poor quality and/or unusable software. It is often said that free software can't compare to commercial (and especially expensive) software. This article quickly dispels these myths. A software's quality (performance, usability, function, stability) is not related to its monetary cost. This article also shares some information and thoughts about the open source and free software movements.

What is open source?

Ready-to-run or packaged software is created by programmers. Software is built (written) by using computer languages. The original building blocks of the software is called the source or source code.

Open source, basically, means that the source code is available -- or open -- for users and other programmers to read, use and possibly re-use in different projects.

Open source promotes software quality and reliability by allowing peer review and advancement and improvement of source code. In addition, by providing source code, standards and ideas are easily shared, reviewed and help foster community use.

Although "open source" is now a buzz term, in fact, it has its origins in development over thirty years old. A variety of code has been written and shared as freeware, public domain or using a variety of free or near-free distribution licenses.

For example: BSD, the software and the license used by a variety of university researchers starting in the late 1970's to rewrite the proprietary and commercial Unix. Over the years, the BSD projects developed complete, usable and free operating systems. They developed ideas, protocols and freely provided the source code for TCP/IP and other networking technologies that now power the internet. In fact, due to its generous license, a lot of BSD source code and ideas are now used in a variety of commercial (such as Mac OS X), proprietary (like miscellaneous firewalls) and free software.

Another example is the GNU project. The GNU project, started around 1985, has the goal of providing free software -- with free referring to freedom, not price. For example, you have the freedom to run the software for any purpose, the freedom to modify the software to match your needs, the freedom to redistribute the software (for free or for a fee), and the freedom to distribute your own modified versions of the software.

Why use open source software?

A lot of open source has been under constant development for several years -- a lot of open source software is very mature. Developers and users have numerous reasons for using open source software:

No or Low-cost -- Free software and operating systems can save hundreds of dollars on just one simple home computer. And it can save thousands of dollars for a small office. The lack of licensing fees can literally save hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars for large organizations and businesses. There is a total cost of ownership when you include support fees, but these should be comparable or a lot less than normal mainstream technical support fees (due to the high security, quality, reliability and stability of open source systems).

Software Quality, Reliability and Stability -- Software that has freely-readable and usable source code can be modified, improved, reviewed, tested, and sampled. Experienced developers and even beginning programmers can add ideas, take ideas and improve code in many ways. This improves quality and, in the long run, improves reliability and stability. For example, numerous open source-based operating systems have shown that they can literally run for years. (This code stability can also save money.)

Improved Security -- Open source code encourages review. It encourages users and programmers to find bugs and security flaws. And when problems are found, a variety of developers can share ideas and quickly fix and distribute fixes. Often fixes (patches) are available before the security flaws are officially announced. Open source code can have bugs just like closed-source, proprietary software. Nevertheless, although some problems are harder to find in proprietary, no-available-source software, these problems usually take a lot longer to be announced, fixed and the updated software distributed.

Crackers take advantage of problems in open source and closed-source software, but it has been proven numerous times, that open source software is fixed faster and is more secure. Due to the open peer review, open source software bugs are usually fixed before they are exploited.

In addition, due to the Unix nature and peer review of source code, computer viruses and trojan horses are rare (and mostly non-existent). And most popular viruses do not work under open source platforms.

Encouragement of open standards and protocols -- Open source code promotes the sharing of ideas. This improves computer ease-of-use. For example, the internet's and world wide web's recently rapid growth is based on open standards and open source code, such as BSD's TCP/IP and DNS (domain name system) code, the NCSA and Apache web servers, and the Sendmail email routing software. Companies and individuals who want to promote their software or ideas make their ideas and software code freely available. Open source fosters innovation by protecting and sharing intellectual property.

By using open source software, platforms can be consolidated -- saving money by enhanced interoperability.

Quick Development -- Open source developers believe in reusing ideas; they believe in sharing code and not reinventing the wheel. Nevertheless, they also believe in doing the task correctly. Ideas and code are rapidly shared and reused in a variety of similar and different projects. Thousands of advanced software projects are in active development.

Well Documented / Variety of Support -- Most popular open source solutions are extremely well documented and a variety of free and commercial technical support options are available. Due to the nature of community development, documentation and instructions are often written from a variety of viewpoints -- creating well-rounded information, instruction and tutorials. In addition, open source projects can't hide usage techniques, due to the free availability of the code. Free technical support is often available in the form of mailing list or newsgroup discussions; nevertheless some background research, knowledge or experience is often required. (Puget Sound Technology is commercial technical support option for open source software.)

Encourage Software Freedom -- The open source model improves consumer choice; it helps reduce major software companies' monopolies, domination and control.

Quantitative measures for why you should consider open source software

This compilation of studies at http://www.dwheeler.com/oss_fs_why.html notes the following:

  • Linux is the number one server operating system on the internet.
  • Linux is the the number two server operating system sold in 1999.
  • Apache is the number one web server on the internet.
  • Linux had 80% as many client shipments in 1999 as Apple's MacOS.
  • Businesses plan to increase their use of Linux.
  • Equivalent open source applications are more reliable, according to a 1995 study.
  • Linux is more reliable than Windows NT, according to a 3-month ZDnet experiment.
  • Linux is more reliable than Windows NT, according to a one-year Bloor Research experiment.
  • Apache webservers had less downtime than Microsoft IIS web servers, according to a 3-month Swiss evaluation.
  • Caldera Linux with Apache is 50 percent faster than NT 4.0 with IIS.
The report also discusses more performance data, scaleability, security and total cost of ownership.

What are some more examples of freely-available open source software?

Open source software is available for eye-pleasing and easy-to-use graphical, windowing interfaces. And open source software is available for behind-the-scenes, important server tasks.

Thirty-percent of the server market runs on the Linux kernel and GNU applications. The Apache web server powers over 6 million web servers and 70-percent of all websites. The Berkeley Internet Name Domain software is used by the vast majority of name servers. Sendmail and other open source mail servers transfer and route almost all of the world's email. Yahoo! and even Microsoft's HotMail are powered by BSD.

(It is interesting to note that a variety of open source projects are developed to run under both Unix-like systems and Microsoft Windows systems; for example: Apache, Ogg Vorbis and AbiWord.)

Open source software exists for almost every possible computer need; the following is a short list of categories and popular and interesting open source programs:

Supercomputers / Clustering -- Free software is used to create low-cost (like $3000) supercomputers that can compete with computers costing hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars. Examples: Beowulf, Parallel Virtual Machine, Harness.

Publishing / Document Processing -- Roff/troff/groff, docbook, LaTeX, TeX, ghostscript (postscript).

Office / Desktop Applications -- Star Writer, Open Office, KOffice, GNOME Office, AbiWord (AbiSuite), The GIMP, Emacs, Gnumeric.

Audio / Video -- XMMS, Amp, festival, Ogg Vorbis, MPEG, MP3, cdparanoia, fxtv, gphoto.

Databases -- Sleepycat DB, Postgresql, MySQL, OpenLDAP, InterBase (Borland), mSQL (Hughes).

Literally, tens of thousands of open source programs and projects are available, providing simple to advanced software.

Interesting articles

File Servers for Free: Samba for Small Businesses

Nowadays, a Linux server running Samba can almost replace the role of a Windows NT server. In addition to file and print serving, Samba also provides password authentication services to Windows users. The newest development lets Samba to act as a Windows NT primary domain controller.

... Instead of paying thousand of dollars for a Windows server, Samba - a free, easy to administer and stable file server, could be the only one you ever need!

Linux Server Operating Environment Shipments Posted a 666.3% Yearly Increase in Japan

IDC said special attention should be paid to the rapid growth of Linux*. Linux shipments were 16,858 units, up from 2,200 units in 1998, recording a phenomenal yearly growth rate of 666.3%.

... IDC predicts ... Linux should grow as a server operating environment at a 44.8% CAGR, capturing a 12.0% share and taking the No.2 position by 2004 following the Windows NT/2000 platform.

Linux Is Red Hot in the Server Market

... Linux server shipments increased 166% to 72,422 units in Q499 from Q498, representing the fastest-growing operating environment in the server market.

"... it will become an important area of growth within the server market as more and more branded vendors come out with Linux server offerings and as end users select Linux servers not just because of price but because of reliability, availability, and performance as well."

IDC Predicts Linux to be Asia's Fastest Growing Server Platform over the Next 5 Years

With a 58 percent CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate), Linux server shipments will cross the 100,000 shipments mark in 2004.

Open source code: A corporate building block

... more and more enterprises are proving that it [open source] is just as good as, or better than, commercial code. And that despite the traditions and culture clashes between the open source community and commercial enterprise, there's an increasing need for merging the best of both worlds and running a mix of the two.

The Register: How many ways canst thou measure Linux shipments?

... But the metric you're probably waiting for is that roughly 15 copies are replicated and used from each paid-for distro, according to Kusnetzky. And in addition, for every paid OS shipment, too, there's slightly less than one additional free download from the company's ftp server.

What's Open Source Good For?

Open Source development, he said, is good at rapid protyping and quick bug fixes. "Open Source is a good way to get the right features quickly."

For further information about how using open source software can meet your needs or improve your organization, be sure to ask us. Also consider reading our article "What is Linux? What is BSD? Why use BSD and/or Linux?".

Puget Sound Technology provides professional technical support services (implementation, developing, installation, configurations, administration and maintenance) of open source-based operating systems and open source software.

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