Open source 'is everywhere'
"Open source is everywhere," says Karl Fischer, senior consultant at Obsidian Systems.
A lot of people who believe they "don't use open source" in fact rely on platforms using open source (OS) infrastructure every day, says Muggie van Staden, Obsidian MD.
These platforms include Google, Facebook and Twitter, he notes, and OS software can also be found in a range of everyday devices, including Samsung TVs and Garmin GPS devices, as well as Android smartphones, adds Fischer.
Yet beyond gadgets and social networks, OS infrastructure permeates a range of critical sectors, namely finance - including banking, insurance, and retail - and telecoms, says Van Staden. Most SA banks employ Linux mainframes and servers, and it would be difficult to find an SA telco not running "significant amounts of Linux", he says.
Yet the ubiquity of OS - or at least the awareness of this ubiquity - is absent from a large number of smaller businesses and companies, note Fischer and Van Staden.
Van Staden believes OS solutions are less common in generic business environments because employees and ICT executives alike have a familiarity bias towards proprietary software such as Microsoft Office.
"Unfortunately, you get a lot of uninformed CIOs," says Van Staden, adding that misinformation around OS solutions means many people are mistrustful of them, or unaware of critical information such as that enterprise OS software can offer the same 24/7 critical support as proprietary software.
Fear of change or unfamiliarity is a common factor influencing open source uptake, adds Fischer. "Nobody ever gets fired for implementing Microsoft Office," he quips.
Yet moving towards OS does not have to be a "big bang" change, says Fischer. Embracing OS can mean changing small IT components one at a time, such as switching to using an OS browser such as Firefox, he offers.
It is important for ICT executives to become standards-orientated rather than products- or brand-orientated, says Fischer. Proprietary software can be open source-minded, just as open-source software can be inflexible or fail to offer the features a company needs, he notes.
Van Staden is confident that while OS remains invisible to many, its use is growing steadily in SA, and awareness around it will build with time.