The case for licensed open source software
Open source software (OSS) has now become a well recognised and utilised brand. A brand that, if we were to get a broad sweeping perception poll on, would generally stand for free, fair and cost effective. However, despite this growth, the battle between open source and traditional software still rages on whereby the pros and cons for each can be endlessly debated.
The real issue here however, is to recognise the distinction between the general perception that OSS has, and the actual relevance and impact it can bring to a business. The general perception is that OSS should be free and cost effective – it’s only fair! When in fact, in my opinion, the actual relevance and impact that OSS can have on corporate SA far outweighs this limited perception. The benefits of OSS – those of speed to develop; solutions vs. software; standardisation and cost savings have demonstrated real value and have gone a long way to changing this ‘free’ perception.
As such, the same principles need to be applied to the next impending debate – Open Source vs Licensed Open Source (LOS). The ‘free and fair’ perceptions need to be managed correctly and placed in context with the value that LOS provide a business – and need to be debated, examined and discussed – to ensure we reach a similar conclusion to that of the OSS vs. proprietary debate – and I am certain we will do so. Let me elaborate.
We have all established the benefits of OSS, but we need to examine the legal guidelines associated with the use of OSS – especially for companies operating in this, the most transparent age – the twenty first century. LOS essentially means a company will benefit from a clear commercial licence, which provides legal protections that are not available under the General Public License (GPL).
It’s obvious that every business is diverse and has varied operational requirements. For any successful technology implementation, a company (and its selected technology partner) must understand these needs explicitly and co-ordinate technology solutions to meet these requirements – effectively. When examining OSS vs LOS and which would be more relevant to a business, the appropriate steps should be taken to understand the benefits and features of each and then decide if the premium charged for the licensed version will provide better value in return. Let’s put two of the readily deciding factors on the table:
It is important to state upfront that as a rule of thumb, any business operating off an OSS platform requiring sustainable backing support, should examine an LOS option. Companies with strong supporting in-house admin and technology resources need not opt for LOS, as the resources to support and manage are readily available.
Having said this however, as more and more corporate and large enterprise companies rapidly adopt Linux and telephony platforms such as Asterisk, the security of licensing structures will become paramount. The licensing option allows customers to get the best of both worlds – the innovation and creativity of the open source model, with the protection and options available in traditional commercial software.
Additionally, there are various examples where both free OS and LOS is provided by the same vendor. A vendor ‘worth its salt’ should always provide a transparent guide on which solution is best suited to a particular business. What’s important is that licensing and protection associated with it is a focus and is taken as seriously as the platform on which it operates.
LOS naturally has a cost implication, as a LOS service provider will provide the support and resources necessary to ensure a fully fledged backing of all business applications for the company. But is this cost not worthwhile, considering the urgent need to continuously support mission critical applications, in a managed and recorded way? At the end of the day – OSS is free – but what is free is the intellectual property. Is that not fair enough?
The lengthy debate of proprietary vs OS must have taught us something, surely? The uptake and success of OSS must reiterate the need for viable support and direct a positive business case for any further developments to OS – of which LOS is one. One that should be taken into consideration with much enthusiasm, as it is only through improvements and developments such as these that corporate SA will be provided with a more dynamic, viable and successful operating platform. Worth the weigh up – don’t you think?
Rob Lith is a director of Connection Telecom.