Industry OpinionOpen Source Software – everybody\'s doing it!
Managing Director, TSI
Remember the old saying, \”Nobody got fired for buying IBM\”? Well, these days, even IBM is using open source software. So is Hewlett Packard, and so is Sun. In fact, every major player, with one notable exception, is offering open source. Open source software is growing rapidly in the commercial environment, including South Africa.
Nor is it only industry. IBM has just persuaded Britain\’s Office of Government Commerce to launch a nine-department trial of open source, to compare the effectiveness and cost benefits with the more usual proprietary
systems. In Australia, the National Archive Office took the decision last November to place all government documents into open source, to preserve their quality and accessibility.
Closer to home, the South Africa government recently announced that it is in support of open software. Over 18 million people worldwide now use Linux directly as do many millions more when searching with Google – the most popular search engine.
Decision makers in South Africa need to become more aware of the potential of open source and also to pay less attention to some of the myths that are spread about it by those who have proprietary interests at heart. There is a hoary old shopping list of issues that is trotted out with monotonous regularity about open source software, including support, security, reliability, accountability and cost.
The facts are plain. First of all, it\’s not a \”one or the other\” choice. At TSI, we are avid supporters of open source software. But we are also supporters of Microsoft and Windows. One of our tasks is to integrate both
systems, where and when appropriate. But the beauty of open source software is that when integration is necessary, we have access to the source code.
This is not possible with commercial software, whereas open source software makes the integration process much more efficient.
It\’s also important to understand that behind open source code is a very large community of developers and users who are committed to the model. That means we can gather information very quickly and efficiently about a particular problem, if we run into one, and at very low cost. Nor are we subject to the vagaries of \”the latest upgrade\”, with its accompanying licence fees or an interruption to service by rebooting or loading the latest patch \” to see if that fixes it\”.
There is no doubt that on the desktop, Microsoft is currently king. Users are comfortable with applications like MS Office. We don\’t believe that the open source equivalents are yet mature enough to compete in this sphere,
although we test them in-house. But go behind the desktop and into the server room, or into the ERP system, and it\’s a different matter. Many large companies have already made the transition to open source without the board
of directors knowing about it – because the IT people understand the associated benefits, but struggle to explain them in layman\’s language.
Check out the academic sites – you\’ll be surprised how many universities have gone for open source.
Critics also point to the levels of support offered by open source suppliers. But think for a moment about the economic model underpinning the growth of open source. Commercial software companies receive income from
sale of new products, upgrades and licence renewals. Support is an add-on. The more support offered, the lower the margins.
Open source is the exact reverse. The software, in 99% of the cases, is free. The company that supplies it, like TSI, makes its money through the provision of support and value-add. If we don\’t deliver great support, we\’re
out of business. But here\’s your reliability check. If prices you are quoted for support are high, you\’ll know immediately that the company is concerned about the reliability of the software. Prices are low when companies know that the software is stable and reliable. Once it\’s installed, they will not be spending large amounts of time at your premises trying to make it all work.
That\’s also why TSI has gone for a simple no-contract, monthly fee model for a product like our e-Box. You don\’t like it? It\’s not working to spec? Fine – we\’ll take it away with no hard feelings.
This is another indicator of open source becoming a commodity, which is happening right through the IT industry and it\’s a very sound indicator of how far open source has come. These days, fewer executives are interested in
what\’s inside the box. However, like the telephone, they are very interested in what it does and that it improves their business.
In TSI\’s e-Box, for example, we have an excellent example of a business need – reliable, stable e-mail, with good anti-virus and anti-spam capabilities, remote management, off-site back-up – allied to open source software and packaged as a commodity. We deliver, install and manage, while you or your company use it. The open source component keeps the costs right down, compared with the proprietary software.
Open source? It\’s here to stay. After all, if it\’s good enough for IBM, surely it\’s good enough for you.
Michael Brunzlik is the managing director of TSI. This is his opinion.