Open source

One of the longest running soap operas in IT over recent years has been the supposed rise, or non-rise, of open source software and solutions.

Open source, for anyone living on the moon or still using a Commodore 64 as their mission critical PC, is software that has generally been created by collaborative effort, and is free to the user to implement, copy and hand out at car boot sales or whatever they wish to do with it.

The benefits of open source appear to be that it’s free, and secondly that it is way cooler than implementing proprietary software with all the manuals and explanations etc that come with it.

The big boy of open source is, of course, Linux but there are other examples, such as the Mozilla project (bringing you the Firefox browser.) Many commentators see Linux as the one to watch in its battle against Microsoft’s hold on the server marketplace.

Despite being free, one can see in the rose of the open source movement a great example of capitalist Darwinism, with open source products evolving to challenge the lazy proprietary incumbents, or to fill niches where no proprietary solution exists.

Open source means that there is competition in a market that seems to be increasingly dominated by big players, and helps push development. Its popularity has grown to the extent that even players like Microsoft now appear to want to play inside the open source tent.

Does this signal the triumph of open source over the big money grabbing vendors? I think not.

Open source is good for the market, keeps it on its toes and all that, but it doesn’t offer the same peace of mind (and help desk support) as something that you’ve paid for. I could be proved wrong, and probably will, but it’s my belief that, despite continuing to grow, open source will remain the alternative rather than the standard.