When we talk about Open Source software (OSS) people often latch on primarily to the point that the software is ‘free’. We all like a freebie, they’re great and I’m not knocking them (just watch me lunge for the free beer samples at the Hay Festival), but when it comes to providing users with an excellent service, that kind of ‘free’ really isn’t the point.
There are two ‘free’ meanings. The narrow one is based on cost alone, something that has no value or costs nothing, e.g. free beer.
The more significant one is ‘Free’ as in ‘Free speech’. This is the one open source is about. Free of charge applies to open source software too but the important one is that you have all the freedom to use the software.
There are vast mountains of free of charge software available, to the point where we all expect to be able to do most of our personal surfing, emailing and so on without paying for any of the services we use. Thing is though, who’s bringing much, if any, judgment to bear on the code? We hear all the time about bugs, glitches and most worryingly security flaws, such as the Adobe Acrobat, Flash and Reader problems I was reading about today.
The program is ‘free’, but who’s going to listen to you, the user, if you experience problems, especially big nasty I-can’t-use-my-computer-and-someone’s-nicked-my-personal-data problems. This is the difference between a proprietary but free-to-use application like Adobe or Hotmail, and an Open Source ‘free’ application that has been reviewed and checked down to its nuts and bolts and is listening keenly to user opinions and responding to them fast.
As a business user, the problems these closed-but-free applications pose are potentially very serious and in our opinion risking them is in no way worth the money saved on licenses. If your business is looking to save money on IT, then Open Source provides a far more sound and really free platform, and one over which you keep control. Our company charges for space our clients take up on our servers and for our care and support, but an IT-savvy business can look after its own OSS and make an even greater saving without facing all the risks of closed free software. Do the sums – would an IT failure cost you more than £30 a month in lost business? I’m sure the answer is yes, in which case you might want to take a look at this.