What is Open Source?

I know… You probably have heard the stories that Linux and Open Source is in vogue. But you may have doubts about why open source software (OSS) is a healthy choice for your new or existing business. In the next few articles I’ll try to explain in detail why OSS and open standards can and do help businesses. The focus of this article is to give you the overall map of OSS and why current businesses use it successfully.

First consider a few facts in the current business ecosystem. Android, an embedded OSS system based on Linux, runs a whopping 56% (circa Sept 2011) of all new smart-phones, not to mention the dumb phones too. Why does Google and a multitude of supporting companies use Android? There are many reasons, but I’ll share a few. One is that the cost of development and support is shared between the commercial and OSS communities. Another is that it is easier to design around a know “open” system like Android. It gives more companies an easier time to enter and prosper in this business segment.

Lets look at web server software. Apache HTTP, an OSS that serves web pages has a massive 65% of market share (circa Sept 2011). Apache usually runs on Linux too. Web servers are a very important part of today’s internet, so you should ask youself what is so good about Apache’s software that compels these hundreds of millions of websites to use it? It’s again true that cost is an issue, but there are other reasons as well. One is the good overall security of both Apache and Linux, while another is flexibility and ease of management.

We could go on to discuss other OSS victories like Drupal, Mac OSX’s use of OSS, supercomputing, the cloud, and so on.. But there is a fundamental problem staring right at us: Why doesn’t business use and trust OSS more than they currently do? Why do businesses shell out $millions per year on licenses and contracts for proprietary software and hardware when there are perfectly good OSS alternatives?

The short answer is perception and marketing: Its nine-tenths of the law! Linux and OSS are not as cute and cuddly as many of us would like, and it really lacks marketing pizazz. My next few articles will cover this in some depth. Until then, don’t let the marketeers scare you away from OSS solutions just yet. Stay tuned for next weeks article on cost.