Quick: How many businesses do you know of that make use of Linux or open source? How many industries? Many people would be surprised at the numbers of organizations that are now employing open source. But where is it seeing the most success? And which industries would most benefit from adopting open source solutions?
I thought it might make be interesting to consider which industries would be best suited for open source software. Some of these industries (on certain levels) already take advantage of open source, but others do not. And each of these industries can benefit from open source in different ways. Some could certainly use the cost-effectiveness, whereas others could use the reliability. Let's open this can of worms and see what crawls out.
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During a recent consulting gig, I saw firsthand how well Linux plays in the large-format printing industry. Not only does Linux have some of the best large-format software available, it also can serve as the most reliable platform for a print server to live on. But don't think you have to be a large-format print house to take advantage of open source. Any size business (or home user) can take advantage of the reliability, flexibility, and cost-effective nature of using open source for their printing needs. And CUPS has such a user-friendly Web-based admin tool, the prospect is even more attractive.
2: Internet cafes
Once you venture outside the United States, you will find Internet cafes all over the place. And what better use for open source software than this? With Linux, you can lock down everything you don't want people to use, you don't have to worry so much about viruses, pirated software is a non-issue, and you can use a Live distribution so starting clean is as easy as rebooting the computer.
For the longest time, ISPs have been fond of the variations on a BSD theme. With incredible tools like ISPconfig, it's no wonder why so many ISPs can run their businesses with open source software. And as anyone who has used Linux or BSD enough will tell you, these operating systems were built, from the ground up, to be online. In fact, the variations of these operating systems flourish while being online. With security always an issue, hosting an ISP on a platform as secure as a BSD only makes sense.
4: Web hosting
As with ISP hosting, using open source tools for Web hosting is a perfect marriage. Apache, Drupal, WordPress, Xoops!, MySQL —you name it, and open source has a solution. Open source not only excels in this area, it dominates it. IIS can't, in any way, stand up to Apache with regard to performance, security, reliability, and ease of use.
5: Help desk
Ah, the help desk. That wonder of a black hole where most users wind up getting redirected around the globe. And after being on the phone for what seems like hours, they wind up speaking with someone reading from a script. Here's the thing: Help desk solutions are plentiful within the open source world. Bugzilla, Mantis, and OSTicket are all easy to obtain and install. With these tools, you can take a poorly run phone-based help system and turn it into a professional help desk that is trackable, accountable, and reliable. Does this mean those trying to help users will be better at the helping process? No. But they will be more efficient.
What other agency across the globe could benefit from the cost-effectiveness of open source more than governments? Outside the United States, you will find plenty of governing bodies that have made the switch. Inside the U.S, you will find few. Our government is in constant need of budget cuts — and what better way to achieve them than with open source? Not only that, our current administration had a simple goal of transparency. Why not apply that to the software used as well?
Like the government, our schools are suffering from budget issues. In fact, you read about schools closing all the time due to budgetary problems. I realize that Microsoft does a good job of handing out software to schools — but not all software that schools use comes from Microsoft. There are plenty of other pieces to the educational puzzle besides the operating system and office suite.
I don't believe I could think of an industry that is more similar to open source than is the "business" of church. Not only is their primary "documentation," for all intents and purposes, open source. They are also completely community-based, often impoverished, and depend upon the charity of others to continue. What better model to take advantage of open source?
9: Data centers
Your data needs to be secure, reliable, and backed up. Many data centers are nothing but overblown file servers, Web servers, mail servers, etc. Unless you're serving up Exchange at your data center, you need an OS that can serve up files and such quickly and securely. But it doesn't end there. Add to this a tool like VirtualBox, and you can begin to (cheaply) virtualize your data center in ways you couldn't on a tighter budget.
10: Embedded systems manufacturers
One element on the periodic table of systems that could benefit most from open source is embedded. A large number of embedded companies are already taking advantage of open source. For one thing, it can be stripped down to almost nothing more easily than any other OS. Add to that the cost of the source ($0.00) and the availability of developers across the globe, and you can see why embedded systems designers make use of open source software. I would like to see even more embedded systems make use of Linux. I want my alarm clock, my watch, my coffeemaker, and my car electronics to all bear the penguin logo. When that happens, I know I will be able to better rely on the OS powering those systems.
Other possible industries?
Can you think of another industry that should be on this list? It always amazes me when I read of a sector in business that has yet to take advantage of open source. If you've come across one, share it with your fellow TechRepublic readers.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.