Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Open Source Software – Useful or not ?

The aim of this paper is to acquaint the reader with the idea underlying the distribution of Open Source Software and to compare the main features of this solution with the features of commercial software. Particular emphasis is placed on describing the usefulness of Open Source in business applications.

Open Source ideology

The idea of Open Source Software (OSS) has existed for many years. Its main purpose is to hand over with the program its source code and the right to use the program and its code for free. This condition refers to all kinds of program distribution - both commercial sale and free distribution.

Open Source Software originates from non-commercial environments underlining the quality and availability of a program and not striving to maximize the sales profit by all means. These were university students, groups of geek programmers, and companies combining science with business that contributed to the popularization of this program distribution form. GNU projects and open kernel system UNIX -Linux project played a very important role.

The most popular and most commonly used version of Open Source license is GNU GPL. On the basis of this license most free software is distributed worldwide (including the Linux kernel). This license - in comparison with commercial licenses - protects the user's rights and not the rights of the producer.

The Open Source Initiative is a big problem for the companies selling commercial software with a closed source code. Such companies are geared towards gaining profit from the sale of their products. In order to be profitable they usually try to make their clients dependent on them. The financial policy or the desire to outrun competition often lead to launches of imperfect products. Arguments against OSS put forward by the closed source software providers are seemingly right: Lack of responsibility for an OSS product, lack of support, anonymous authors. In fact it's just marketing illusion and an attempt to protect one's own business. Why? Responsibility for the product and OSS support can be bought as an additional service provided by a number of third parties and the case of author's anonymity is solved by the openness of the code - anyone can control and modify OSS either on their own or with the help of freely chosen suppliers. It makes the client independent from the supplier after completing the transaction/buying the product. The client can but doesn't have to cooperate with the subject that sold him the program.

Open standards

Commercial software suppliers use different techniques to make their client product-dependant. The most popular technique is using closed and undocumented standards, i.e. file format known only to the producer.

The nature of OSS makes such dealings impossible - the openness of the source code doesn't allow the program to hide its mechanisms. Open Source licenses (e.g. GNU GPL) make it impossible to enter reserved codes to Open Source projects, e.g.. these under licensing fees. Therefore, there is no possibility that some third parties in the future will have claims towards any persons using an Open Source program made available on the basis of such a license.

While developing OSS programs the programmers often use popular, well documented and free of charge technologies - open standards. Open standards make it possible to use software supplied by different companies and make possible to the buyer to avoid dependency on the conditions dictated by one supplier. As a result, the client can choose the solution with the best ratio of price to quality. Open standards provide great flexibility, important in combining different IT solutions, and contribute to permanence and availability of information.

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