With Facebook’s announcement last month about its half a billionth user, there is no doubt that social networking is here to stay. Facebook has come a long way in a short period of time and part of its success is down to using open source technologies. But what is open source and how does it affect you?
In today’s tight financial climate where cost saving is a must, open source is possibly the best choice. Most open source software is free, but free doesn’t mean substandard or poorly written software. Most of the web servers on the internet run open source software, and that includes the internet giant Google. In fact Google’s own web browser Chrome is based on open source standards, even Apple has dipped its toes into open source from OSX 10.5 onwards.
But what is open source?
The term open source loosely refers to the way in which software is written. Most commercial software is termed closed source or proprietary, this means you cannot see the lines of code that make up the program and the code is copyrighted. With open source you have access to the lines of code and are free to change or rewrite this code.
Commercial software companies employ programmers to write their code, this code belongs to the company and not the individual programmer or programmers. Open source software is usually written by unpaid volunteers who are scattered across the globe, the code is accessible by anyone and anyone can contribute, advocates of open source software sight this as the reason why open source software is more secure than closed source software as there are more people scanning their code to pick up errors and potential security holes.
Open source offers solutions for businesses, ranging from desktop operating systems to server solutions. Whilst the allure of a cost free alternative to commercial software seems appealing, there are implications to factor in. Many companies have reported that they have migrated 100% to open source alternatives with little or no issues, whilst others say that moving to open source is being hampered by a bespoke software package or hardware device that is currently not supported by open source. The cost in time for retraining staff can be a huge factor and many see this as a large hurdle to adopt open source.
It doesn’t have to always be Microsoft
Whilst alternatives to Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office might not quite fit the bill; there is a growing trend of companies moving away from commercial server operating systems to open source alternatives. There are a number of companies now offering open source servers which offer the same services, if not better, than their commercial rivals. Microsoft’s latest Small Business Operating system requires new hardware and an increase in memory, which equates to an expensive project. Clear OS, a small business server alternative from Clear Foundation will happily run on your existing hardware and from a user perspective, there will be no difference. Usually open source server operating systems incorporate technologies for internal hosting of web sites, databases, antivirus, anti spam and firewall software.
So who uses open source software?
The US Department of Defense, the US Navy, the French Parliament, the London Stock Exchange, the Commercial Bank of China, IBM and Amazon are all large companies and government departments that have benefited from open source software, not to mention the world’s largest social networking site and Google. So, could you benefit from open source?