Open source software gains ground, says DataPro

Johannesburg, 18 Jun 2003

While still in its infancy, the concept of open source software is starting to catch on, with a growing number of corporates - including government - starting to formulate definite plans to save on costs by using free software.

This is according to Douglas Reed, MD of premier ISP and network integrator, DataPro. "Many IT departments have been slow to adopt open source software. This is pretty crazy considering the often-huge cost of software licensing. The government is leading the way in this regard and seems intent on saving money by moving from licensed software to free software. The move by government and the corporate world obviously has tremendous implications for many software vendors who make a large part of their revenue from licence fees, but it is a trend that I believe is inexorable. The face of the software industry - and how businesses view it - is definitely going to change."

Recent reports from Meta Group and Gartner indicate quite clearly that the "open source movement" is gathering steam and will play a more important role in the future of software.

Reed said there are a number of large software development and support organisations that have taken a strategic decision to move to Linux, arguably the most well-known open source software.

"In what must be regarded as a major shot in the arm for the open source industry, IBM has taken a decision to get Linux to run on its hardware. It is developments like this that will ultimately make other companies, large and small, take real notice of free software. If Linux can be deployed on IBM hardware, the question begs, then surely it is robust - and surely it can be properly supported."

Reed said this poses a big headache for proprietary software vendors, or vendors who sell or re-sell licence-based software. "It is going to possibly re-write the entire software map in the future."

One of the biggest boosters of open source, he said, is the Internet. "The Internet has really allowed this whole new development to develop. This also means that the user can access the Internet and get whatever information he needs on his software, rather than relying on his vendor for information and support. But, while the information is readily available online, the open source movement is currently being out-gunned by other licence-based software vendors that are naturally more motivated to urge people to buy their wares instead.

"Naturally, because open source is not represented by one company - because it is a movement - its popularity will be driven, or fall, as more users learn about it and adopt it. If more and more companies successfully move to the free software model, the movement`s popularity will quickly increase. Having said that, there are a lot of companies that have made certain strategic decisions to deploy certain technology, be it Oracle, SAP, Microsoft - and they have invested a lot of money in building their IT infrastructure around this decision.

"Once a company invests and deploys a certain accounting software solution, for instance, it is a momentous decision to shift to a new solution. That`s because, if it is a mistake, the very well-being of the company could be at stake. So the old adage, `if it ain`t broken, don`t fix it` comes into play here. Companies, like people, don`t like change. And this, right now, is the biggest inhibitor to the rise of open source. But as more and more success stories are heard, more companies may just feel compelled to seriously investigate this new way of conducting business.

"In addition," said Reed, "it is interesting to note that open source, at the moment, is far more protected from malicious Internet attacks and viruses. Many companies might regard this as a fundamental reason to shift - because the cost of defending networks from these attacks is becoming onerous. And when networks go down because of virus attacks, millions and millions of rands are lost."


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