Simply put, Open Source is software developed in a public, collaborative manner, which has unrestricted licences and is generally free to use. Gone are the days where proprietary software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Apple rule the roost – customers now have the freedom to pick and choose solutions that can be built and tailored to their company’s needs, collaborating with software developers to develop and adapt solutions without fear of expensive licences and vendor lock in.
When compared with proprietary software, OSS is generally simpler to implement, requires less attention and does not attract renewal costs or fees. It also lends itself to design-on-the-go and Skunkwork-type projects due to its flexibility and robustness.
Who is using Open Source?
It may surprise you to know that you are probably already using Open Source products on a day-to-day basis without even realising it. Prime examples of OSS are the internet browser Mozilla Firefox, Sun’s Java programming language and environment and the Linux operating system.
During a recent survey conducted by US research firm, Gartner Group, over 50 per cent of 547 IT leaders from 11 countries had adopted OSS as part of their ongoing IT strategy, with one third stating that they use Open Source software due to lower costs, increased innovation and flexibility, faster procurement processes and shorter development times.
Database company, Ingres, is one example of a traditional software supplier that has adopted Open Source methods to allow more flexibility and transparency. This has enabled OpusVL to create a comprehensive repository of reusable software modules that can form the majority of a required software system. Rather than having to build an operational system from scratch, the process is reduced to integrating these modules, leaving costly customised development to a minimum.
Some 20,000 Open Source modules are readily available, which drive technologically advanced, internet-driven systems from enterprise to smartphone. It is used by some of the world’s major organisations, including the BBC, Google and BT. Google has long been a heavy user of OSS, with Google Android and Google Chrome two of its most visible Open Source applications.
Various UK Government departments are running initiatives to promote and use OSS, with Birmingham Council trialling Open Source with a view to reducing costs.
The official Number 10 website (www.number10.gov.uk) and the Cabinet Office website (www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk) already use Open Source technology.
This February, the Land Registry announced that it has chosen OSS to measure performance and support its management information systems. Delivery manager, Steven Philips, explained that they “needed a flexible and cost-effective tool that would improve data integration and for the registry to better manage its business intelligence warehouse data.”
And it’s not just the UK Government leaning towards Open Source; the US Government has long been strong advocates and users of Open Source; Australia’s federal government has published a policy that mandates the consideration of Open Source applications equally alongside proprietary software; Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin instructed his federal government agencies to make the transition to free and open software by 2015; and it has been reported that the Estonian Ministry for the Environment has saved millions of euros over the past decade by using OpenOffice.
How can Open Source be applied?
There are numerous cases where Open Source can directly replace propriety software to deliver off the shelf savings and provide a quick win. It can be integrated with existing technologies to leverage what is already installed and allow extension for new features and functionality.
OSS can be used for a multitude of applications to meet most organisational needs, from the desktop to the server room and database infrastructure. There are free productivity tools to provide alternative word processing, spreadsheet and presentations, communications and workflow management.
However, selection of the correct solution is key to a successful implementation. There are many Open Source applications and solutions available, and most are free to download and use. As with any IT project, it is important to identify the needs before the solution to prevent time wasted trialling every option. However, once the requirements have been identified and the solution has been properly implemented, there is great potential to make large savings and increase performance.
What support and back-up is there?
There are many Open Source experts and specialist companies with long and proven track records and many more are being established every year as the market expands. Open Source trade associations, such as the Open Source Consortium (OSC) provide one-stop access to some of the UK’s leading industry experts.
This pool can provide case studies and examples of successful implementations in business to assist in the selection of the correct solution.
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