Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who uses Open Source?

Until recently OSS was reserved for academic / scientific centres and IT enthusiasts. A condition to use this software was rich IT expertise and experience. Lack of vast commercial support caused little interest in Open Source software among business circles.

For several years there has been a dynamic increase in the interest in OSS projects in administrative and business environments. Governments of many countries (especially members of the European Union) insist that the offices subordinate to them use OSS. Open Source software is more and more willingly used in business (e.g. in big banks) and military centres. The main reasons for the interest in Open Source software are as follows:

The market of commercial solutions is monopolized heavily. The concerns producing Closed Source systems demand high price for the possibility to use their products. OSS gives the same products for much less money. An additional advantage of OSS is its independence from the product's supplier and guarantee of permanence.

The extent of hacking and misuses in the world wide web in the recent years has revealed the dark side of the Closed Source software - low quality of the code (known only to the producer) contributed to many gaps in the safety of systems.

The code of Open Source programs is reviewed already during their development by many people interested in it. The OSS project is constantly audited by its users - errors found in it are deleted almost immediately (by the author of the application or by third parties that have full access to the source code). As an effect, the reaction time for a "hole" is measured in hours and not in days/months, as in the case of Closed Source software (it sometimes even happens - although less frequently - that the producer denies the existence of a discovered error).

Scandals related to introducing a spying code to Closed Source software (extorted from producers for example by military agencies) undermined the sense of using such a solution in strategic applications. The possibility of auditing and monitoring the code is priceless in these areas where safety is the ultimate condition. Therefore, the governments of many countries (now mainly European) put pressure on the army and administration not to use Closed Source solutions (currently mainly of American origin). For instance, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands use OSS in central government systems (eg. insurance systems). The official website of the Dutch government encouraging OSS usage can serve as an example. There are more and more big companies on the market that support Open Source projects. Giants such as IBM, HP, SGI and Novell willingly install advanced and free Linux software on their servers. These companies obtain profit not from the distribution of software but from the sales of hardware and services.

Many advanced technologies deriving from commercial and closed operating system are made available by their owners for free and introduced into the Linux kernel. A great file system XFS created by Sylicon Graphics, Inc. and derived from the Irix system can be an example here. Now the Linux system is developed not only by enthusiasts but also by teams of engineers representing such companies as Intel, SGI, IBM, and Novell.

More and more small and medium size companies also offer commercial support of Open Source Software as far as implementation, modification and servicing are concerned. This creates favourable conditions to the application of Open Source Software in solving business problems.

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.

Java Goes Open Source

In November of this year Sun Microsystems moved to "open source" status for Java, after a decade of maintaining proprietary status for the portable programming language. Specifically, Sun has placed Java into the public domain by putting it under GPL - an acronym for General Public License. What this means is that software programmers will have vastly increased freedom to develop programs based on Java and to develop modifications for the language itself.

It also puts Sun into the mainstream with other major platform developers such as Linux. While the company had put its Solaris operating system into open source status some time ago, Java is a highly distributed consumer platform and providing open source access to it gives the company a real boost in its standing among its peers. Perhaps more important, it will stimulate further development of consumer oriented Java-based programs. It is estimated that eight out of every ten cell phones have a Java application running on them.

A GPL use requires that any product developed under such licensure be returned to the "open source community" and remain, in effect accessible to all. Sun's variation on this principle has an exception for applications built on the Java "Virtual Machine," a platform that the company made available to software developers some time ago.

What this exception does is allow continued development of proprietary software written for Java, which keeps the language viable as a platform for revenue producing products. Prior to the switch to GPL status, Java program developers had to pay a licensing fee to Sun.

IBM has been after Sun to take Java to open source status for years. Their Works Projects has been a center for the development of open source products, primarily based on Linux. From their perspective, Sun's decision to grant GPL status for Java is viewed as an opportunity to unite with Linux and provide a stronger platform to challenge Microsoft. The politics of software can be enormously complicated, especially when there's an elephant like Microsoft in the house. But what Sun has accomplished with this move is provide an opportunity for programmers to zero in on Java products as potentially large revenue sources.

Unlike Linux, which was spun off of UNIX to provide an alternative to Windows, Java stands in a class of its own. While Linux has survived in the marketplace, it has never mounted a major challenge to Windows. Java's unique qualities and the intellectual property that protects those qualities will now be an open book for programmers developing new applications.

It will also provide the opportunity to bundle Java products with Linux based software. Sun's internal interest in this move is to stimulate more developers to use the language, in order to revive its own internal software business. Since taking a huge hit in their high-end server market, Sun has been struggling to find a new path and has increasingly looked to software as an opportunity.

Sun's EVP for software summed up the value of the move for the company and its product. "People have been hesitant to distribute Java worldwide with Linux (distributions) because of (concerns over) license alignment," Green said. "This is the last gate to ensure that Java will be distributed worldwide."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Disadvantages of using Open Source software

There's a flip side to everything, and in the case of Open Source software it all boils down to the old saying of "there's no such thing as a free lunch". Most of the disadvantages only apply if you're not somewhat code-savvy and willing to get your hands dirty:

Projects can die:
Just as with commercial applications, some Open Source projects stall and die - programmers just lose interest with being involved or they become fraught with infighting; arresting further development. You may be left using an application that is full of security bugs, with no-one to fix them; or if you can get them fixed, it will usually require paying someone to do it.

Support issues:
If you are using commercial software, the vendor has an obligation to assist you in a timely manner, especially where security bugs are involved. You may find an annoying bug in an Open Source application that you need assistance with, but you may not get it without paying someone to fix it.

Even with general questions, if you take a look at many forums that act as support centers Open Software applications, you'll see that it's not unusual for questions to go unanswered. The Open Source community does not have a legal obligation to answer your questions. In some cases, you'll need to figure it out for yourself or hire the services of a knowledgeable contractor.

Advantages of using Open Source software

Open Source software has formed the base of many successful and profitable businesses. Some of the advantages include:

Core software is free:
If you're just getting started in online business, cost can be a major factor. Using Open Source software can really cut down on your initial capital outlay. It's also my firm belief that the Open Source community has helped to rein in prices on commercial software over the years.

Evolving software:
As mentioned, some Open Source software projects can have huge communities of programmers involved, allowing for the rapid implementation of new features and security fixes. The communities of users and programmers are also invaluable resources for asking questions relating to troubleshooting and suggesting enhancements.

Encourages hands on:
When you're short on cash, you are more than likely to want to make modifications to software yourself. I'm no programmer, but the use of Open Source software has encouraged me to go beyond the user interface; to dig into code to try and understand what it does and to make minor edits. As a business owner, it doesn't hurt to understand a little of the voodoo that goes on behind the scenes in the software you use on your site.

Not tied to a single vendor:
If you purchase a commercial application, you can then become reliant on a single company to solve your problems and maintain the software - which can also be very expensive. Some commercial software companies may only provide support and upgrades for a limited time before you need to fork out for any further enhancements or assistance.

Open Source ERP System

Does your company need an ERP system? Come find out if it is right for you.

The basic definition of an open source ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system is an overall system that can organize and control the resources of a company and allows the user to change or update the code. Originally open source referred primarily to programs that could be found for free online. Many open source products are still available for users to access for free. Of course free is always a nice phrase, but sometimes, especially in the case of an open source ERP system, this option is not always the best idea for a company or organization even if it may appear to be the most financially viable option. The reasons for this are numerous, although mainly it is because an ERP system often requires a high level of maintenance and knowledge in order for it to run correctly, and most open source ERP system products do not provide user support.

There are also open source ERP systems that are not free. You pay for the basic product but have the ability to customize the code. There are many vendors who supply these systems that can be found on line. Here again, you need to have a good system of user support or your own in house IT who can support the system.

To best understand why you would need user support, you need to understand that the resources an open source ERP system organizes are vast and range from technical data items to actual people and tacit and explicit knowledge. Even the most basic parts that comprise an ERP system can get complex when entwined, so before considering an open source ERP system be sure you take each component into account and measure your company’s ability to maintain the overall system independently.

As you are already aware, the very first component of an ERP system is the software which is either going to be free, making it an open source ERP system, or from a vendor such as SAP. Either way, the software will help you to take all of the databases in your system and enter them into one master database that holds all of your company’s information for easy reference.

Of course, depending on the type of software you choose, you may need to upgrade or install the second component of an open source ERP system, the hardware. This ranges from your office computers to any equipment that is found at remote locations or with personal that frequently travel. Which of course brings into play the third component of the open source ERP system, which is the employees themselves. You need to make sure that all employees are in the process of being trained when the new open ERP system is placed into play, or have been trained previous to the implementation.

Even the best open source ERP system will not work correctly if your employees are not able to understand how to input correct data into it. The accuracy of the data and the open source ERP system overall is going to relay on the training the employees receive.

That makes the final component of an open source ERP system when is the IT team and their ability to maintenance it.

Proper selection and implementation of an open source ERP system can increase productivity while giving you the best possible customization for your company’s future growth and expansion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is Open Source ?

Open source is a development methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product's source (goods and knowledge). Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities.

The open source model of operation and decision making allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, and differs from the more closed, centralized models of development.The principles and practices are commonly applied to the development of source code for software that is made available for public collaboration, and it is usually released as open-source software.