Web 2.0 Evolution

Web 2.0 & Accessibility

FOSS

Posted by Rafa on October 24, 2007

FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) is an alternate and almost equivalent term to free software, the term created created by Richard Stallman,  and I think it’s worth considering it as part of the Web 2.0 world.

As in free software, FOSS gives the user the right to use, understand, change and redistribute the software (for free). The use of FOSS has increased in the last years, as the free-software community has created software in many areas, including operating systems (see GNU/Linux), databases and a big variaty of applications.

Some questions come to my mind regarding FOSS:
1) How can we make money with FOSS ? Can we make money by supporting and installing free software ? Anyone can access and download free SW, but installing and supporting it is different history.
2) Why do developers spend hours writing code and then give it away ?
3) What is the economic impact or FOSS ? FOSS is increasing a lot, and some studies says that the existing base of FOSS applications is worth Euro 12 Billion. This is a lot of money, and it threatens current SW companies.

What is clear is that FOSS is an important technological, social, and business phenomena, and probably will become one of the biggest change in the industry.

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4 Responses to “FOSS”

  1. iljitsch said

    I’ve been thinking about these issues before, especially in relationship with Apple. Apple builds computers, the operating system and application software. Most of their software is “closed source” but they also have a lot of open source software in their operating system.

    I think it makes sense for a company like Apple to use open source building blocks for aspects that are important, but won’t give them an advantage in the market place. For instance, as part of their software development environment, they need a good compiler, but it won’t hurt Apple if others have a compiler that is just as good as theirs. So they can save a lot of money by using the open source GCC compiler and adding improvements to that rather than develop their own closed source compiler.

    But for things that really differentiate Apple from its competitors, like their graphical user interface, it makes more sense to keep them proprietary.

  2. Rafa said

    I agree. I think many companies recognize the importance and growing impact of open source. And some of those companies are starting to use open source software massively.
    But think on many multinational companies: they still use Microsoft, mainly due to MSOffice and Outlook, paying a lot of money for licenses and support every year. Wouldn’t be cheaper for a multinational company to have an IT expert group on GNU/Linux, and use GNU/Linux instead of Microsoft ? The key point is the technical support, and an internal expert group could provide it. I’m sure a lot of money can be saved.

  3. mtamayoo said

    With open source products are there a “few” problems such as support.
    For as much “experts” you have in a company, the expertise in open source products is not achievable. For instance, Linux has at least 40 different “versions” or “distributions”, each one based on a slightly different variant of the open source license, as it is open sourced, anybody has the right to open the source code and modify it for their purposes. For instance, a company could like to strip down some security code to make a faster database server. Well, under the open source licenses, the improvements that the company makes to the code are obliged to be made open source as well, it means that the intellectual property used (and paid) by the company has to be given for free to the open source community.
    Well, at least for me, does not make sense that a company has to pay to their “experts” for they work just to make it available to the competitors for free!

    Another problem that many of my enterprise customers have found while trying to implement open sourced solutions in enterprise systems is the high cost of support in the open source alternatives. For instance, for maintaining up to date a SuSe Enterprise server you have to pay 15000 USD a year and that includes only the right to download the patches, not even support on their installation process. Would you pay 15000 dollars for keeping out of risk a server when other “closed source” manufacturers (Sun, Apple, Microsoft) do it for free???

    I could enumerate a lot of problems of doing so… and the proof of that is precisely what you mention: Big companies prefer to pay for a closed source software when they need to maintain business continuity. When you want to learn the internals of a software, however, as an academic experiment, using open source software is the best idea. Would you manage your critical firewall for instance on a box that anybody on the Internet could reverse-engineer and find the holes on it? Would you run an airplane with a software who nobody has a responsibility on the bugs it might have? Would you make an open-heart surgery to a patient with an open-source controlled vital signals sensor?

    There are scenarios for all… if you hire your employees just to run games or see nice cubes rotating in their screen you can for sure buy them Linux boxes without the support your company need for keeping the business running!

    There is a lot of topics about it, but I think open source is off-topic around web 2.0, because it can be made with open or closed software.

  4. Rafa said

    Hi, Mauricio,
    I agree that support is an issue for open source, but probably is a question of mind-change by end-users and big companies, and will take some time.
    On your first paragraph, you say that it is difficult to create experts group. In Nortel (the company I work for), a big IT team is focused on Microsoft products only and creates and supports customized SW packages (MSoffice, Adobe, Outlook; they are called distribution, like in Linux) for all employees. Probably they could dedicate their time and efforts for a specific GNU/Linux distribution instead.
    On your second paragraph, you say that companies need to pay 15K for Suse support. Yes, but probably there are alternate free options and, if not, others surely much cheaper than paying Microsoft or Suse (Nortel pays a lot of money to Microsoft every year for support.

    The way I see web2.0 related to open source is to change the way users (and companies) use software. It is not about acquiring licenses any more: you now have different options to choose (free and not free). For example, OpenOffice vs MSOffice, Windows vs GNU/Linux, GIMP vs Photoshop, and many other examples.
    And I see the free options become a real alternative to the non-free ones. And they did not exist 5 years ago.
    Regards,
    Rafa

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