Open Source

What draws you to open source?

Jack Wallen is taking a poll about IT pros' attitude toward open source software. Do you use it primarily? As an alternative for some situations, as needed? Or are you wedded to proprietary only?

Over the last couple of weeks, I did a little informal survey. The survey was one simple question -- what draws you to open source? I asked various levels of users, all of which were in the IT industry in one form or another. I was not at all surprised by the answers. I thought it important to share those answers with you and, in turn, ask of you the same question.

What draws you to open source?

Here are some of the responses I received:

"I use open source because of the freedom it gives me from the lock-down of proprietary software. It gives me the ability to do what I want, when I want, and how I want."

"Because I couldn't get the things done I need to get done otherwise."

"Cost. Cost. Cost."

"Without open source there'd be no way I could complete the majority of tasks at hand without losing my entire IT budget. Add to that the flexibility and reliability of the open source tools I use and it's a no brainer."

"I actually wasn't given a choice. My manager told me get the job done. He added to that demand that I had no budget for the project. As I said, no choice. Not that I mind. Even with a budget, I'd probably be using open source."

"Our company is small and primarily web-based. By leveraging open source to power our IT infrastructure, not only are we cutting costs, we're gaining reliability and flexibility."

"We develop a lot of our tools in-house. Most of those tools are developed with PHP, Perl, and MySQL. Without those tools, we'd be dead in the water."

Every individual, every company has a different reason for choosing the software and platforms they use. From my perspective, it breaks down into two different groups:

  • Those who only use proprietary software and do not know of the alternatives
  • Those that choose the software best suited for the job

Ultimately, it's the latter of the two that drives everything in IT forward. I think it's become common perception now that there isn't one platform for all. I deal with hundreds of clients now and each of them has a mixture of platforms:

  • Windows
  • Linux
  • Android
  • Mac

Each platform serves a purpose and serves it well. I fully believe the days of heterogeneous networks are over. In fact, as we move forward, I can't imagine being able to solve your company needs without using a mixture of platforms!

For me, back in the mid-1990s, it was all about cutting myself loose from the tether of Microsoft. At the time I had had enough of the Windows 95 BSOD and couldn't afford the software I needed to do the jobs I had. When I first discovered Linux it was like I had been released to a freedom I didn't know existed. It took a while to get the hang of things (nothing Linux-related was easy back then), but eventually I was able to shed the last vestiges of proprietary software. I haven't looked back, nor do I plan to.

Now, I pose the question to you, the TechRepublic-verse:

What draws you to open source? And if your answer is "nothing", what prevents you from exploring it as an alternative? What specific needs or applications led you to explore an open source alternative?

The landscape of IT infrastructure is ever-evolving. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything in the business world evolving faster. But there is one thing, among these constantly changing ideas and ideals, that never changes -- need. Every department in every company needs to perform, to get their job done. That is the single most important element of what we do -- keeping things running. As every day passes, that is getting harder and harder to do without the help of open source.

About

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.

30 comments
christinekristy
christinekristy

Open source technologies offer a great deal of variety that proprietary cannot offer. I especially appreciate the opportunity to improve anything you don't like in your open source

Subsentient
Subsentient

I don't care for classic UNIX too much because of the outdated "coreutils" etc equivalents, and I don't hate Windows NT based systems particularly, they just don't offer the "tinkering" access I require. I use Linux systems because they do what I want when I want and I know them in great detail. I was once a noob and a linux zealot, but I am no longer. I know every OS has it's strengths and weaknesses, Linux being that I can do whatever I want to the thing without restriction. If I want to literally access the drive, not partition, I can. That's /dev/sda. Windows relies on third party software and limited inbuilt tools to perform tasks on this. This is only one example. But windows has a unified and superior API for app development which is a big plus, so use what fits you. Just make sure it won't try to conquer the world. ;^)

grimdrive44
grimdrive44

That's my main reason, the other one is I like the freedom to do whatever I want with it. Linux doesn't need that much maintenance either. Plus, their are hundreds of Linux distro's to choose from, and only 3 Windows OS (XP,Vista, 7). I don't use Macs but I know their are at least 2 OS's from Apple. I like having a variety of things

alzie
alzie

Certainly cost is an important issue, but additionally the proprietary company's grab assy attitude is what finally cinched it for me. Made the change in 06 and havent looked back. Viva open source!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

In the 1990s I preferred to use Linux where I could because it was cheaper and more secure, this was the same for the start of the twenty-first century. I still used Win 98 and Win XP on some systems as they have specific software that will not run on anything else. Over the years I've also worked on systems for other people and their reasons for switching were the same. However, since 2008 it's all changed. Today, I've lots of customers who've previously shunned open source as they were happy with their Windows system are now asking me to find them open source alternatives to Windows that are like the systems they're sued to. I fins I'm much the same way myself, I prefer to use a system that I'm familiar with. My current OS of choice and recommendation is Zorin OS and I recommend the people pay the money to buy a Premium download as it comes with the Zorin Changer for just 7 Euros. The Zorin Changer provides you with a choice of desktop interfaces that includes Mac OS X, Win XP, Win 2000 (ie Win Classic), Linux Gnome, Win 7 and Win Vista. Being built on Ubuntu it's highly functional and the Win 2000 interface makes all those used to Win Classic feel right at home.

david.hunt
david.hunt

I'm on the side of horses for courses and thus not one eyed about any technology. I've been caught by vendors of proprietary software changing products and having a poor migration strategy or the new product no longer fits the needs. If this happens every 10 years, you probably just say, well that's the march of technology, but when it happens three times in 8 years, it is a significant cost overhead. Judicious choice of a well researched and well supported Open Source solution, has in my experience not had this disadvantage. In addition, if the project does go in a different direction, you have the choice to fork it and maintain it yourself.

bwexler
bwexler

I used Unix 25 years ago. Then I caved in to consumer pressure and moved to Windows3.1. I have been using windows XP 64 bit and reluctant to move to Win 7. Tried Vist for 6 months and did not like it, went back to XP. I tried Ububntu and ran into a few proprietary web sites that would not work under Linux. I also am addicted to Quicken and TurboTax. I do plan to try Ubuntu on some low end PCs for my consumer market.

j@n
j@n

There's aplenty support that you get in most of the Open Source solutions. Because of the cost and all this, you can try, test, bend, twist, break and make all in your own time space without worrying that there is a renewal or you have paid a heavy amount for the purchase and you better be rolling soon. Once you are through this learning curve and you are satisfied - there you come! Sail your way to this solution. But, just one thing try to help as many new comers as you can for this is the only reason of Open Source's existence. Cheers, Jan_JBB

anil_g
anil_g

Best of breed open source software is often better. For a start it's better because it's open, allowing easier integration. As someone else said, the information and support is readily available and fast. If the software does or can do what you want it to you can usually sort it out using online support pretty quickly. The quality of implementation, the design, the lack of bloat factor, the usability for admin and users, is all often better. Configuration is very automatable (text / command line based instead of point and click). jfuller said "If the free, open-source software works just as good as the paid version then why not use open-source?" but why would you pay for something if the free version is better?

Evil.Ron
Evil.Ron

If I want to get things done fast, I have no choice but to use open source. I can get the tools I need and be all set up and productive in under a day without the need to worry about any of the red tape, making sure we have software budget, writing a business case, then getting the necessary approvals.

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

Jack quoth: "Each platform serves a purpose and serves it well. I fully believe the days of heterogeneous networks are over. In fact, as we move forward, I can???t imagine being able to solve your company needs without using a mixture of platforms!" Um, Jack, mixed platforms ARE hetrogenous, uniform platforms are homogenous. A network with Linux, Windows, OSX, iOS, Android, etc. all working as one big happy family is hetrogenous. An old-timey network composed of exclusively Windows boxes would be homogenous.

merelyjim
merelyjim

Does it work? Is it dependable? Do you get called in during the middle of the night to restart it? No software is perfect, but it's almost always easier to work around the bugs in open-source software than fight with Oracle, Micorsoft, or something whipped-up by a grad-student over the weekend that the bean-counters bought for cheap.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

That's what DROVE me to open source (and freeware). What keeps me there is when I find good functionality for the job I need to do. It's like having a box of simple tools instead of a Leatherman. Handling one light tool is often easier than coping with a multi-featured "tool" if I seldom use most of its features. And I often find that these lighter tools are well-crafted, because if they weren't they'd just be dumped. If Windows still reigns, it is only because of inertia, the huge corporate user base, hardware compatibility issues, and a few really good apps (like Excel). Example: I have both Visual Studio and PHP (which I write in a programmer's text editor) available to me to write web apps with. I often choose PHP because it is so much less ponderous. There seems to be a whole approach to life embodied in many open source products that I prefer compared to the approach embodied in many proprietary tools (Microsoft's being those I am most familiar with).

a.portman
a.portman

For me, it started with "I would like to..." followed closely by, "I have no money". From there I was off to the races. Last week my boss asked what all was running on our internal web server. By web server, I mean an old HP5100 desktop circa 2005 with a new hard drive and 2Gb of memory. The answer: Online campus phone book, plus two phone books that did not work out. Joomla test site to teach him Joomla! glpi online work order system kickstart project management test Development site for our mobile friendly website moodle OrangeHRM HR system Project Pier Project management live backup of our production web site Docuwiki IT department wiki. Total investment: $200 and about 25 hours over the last two years. My children use a Peppermint OS laptop. The biggest hurdle. Making presentations is radically different with OpenOffice than MS Office. Oh, and the spyware doesn't load.

DesertJim
DesertJim

I had the choice when starting up a company to go linux or windows. As a start up it was a no brainer, cost of office, email and everything else was just an overhead I didn't need. I was fully self sufficient and compatible and everybody was happy doing the 100% of computer tasks that Open Office and Libre does just as well as MS Office. We found the open ethos gave us additional security as exploits were fixed before they were exploited, so no further overheads on AV and no attacks on our system (that we were aware of) the one guy who did use windows XP as he needed his contacts list which he couldn't move off his windows platform was hit with lots of malware (he used commercial AV) and was the only one who experiebced computer "trouble" in 3 years. The lack of problems with the system mean't I didn't employ people to fix and maintain the system. An easy business decision.

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

I know of very few companies that will buy new releases of commercial applications unless they are forced to do so because of OS incompatibility, or a known product deficiency, and there is a strong possibility that the new release will resolve the issue. The cost of deployment and inefficiency during retraining is too high. Very few of the commercial applications that do what I need are available in trial versions, and most of the Windows apps are locked into Microsoft's OS release cycle. In contrast, every Windows-compatible open application can be fully used and evaluated prior to spending any money for support, and runs on a wide range of Microsoft OS releases. The speed of resolution of reported problems, and requests for extended functionality, in open software is far faster than that of commercial apps from the major publishers. As a result, I seldom recommend a commercial app when there is an open alternative, unless the requester has deep pockets, and/or there is an indication that the open equivalent is much harder for the average user to utilize, it is unstable, incomplete, poorly supported, or not thought well of by the current users who are active in forums. ie, I recommend open over commercial most of the time.

MTsyko
MTsyko

I think I've been lucky in life. Two "magic" moments have happened to me. First, having already discovered that I'm a hardware guy (from previous electronics experience), the personal computer came out and I was hooked. Second, I was intro'd to Linux back in the mid/late nineties. Then, it was as an alternative to using CS UNIX computers at school or using gcc @ home for C/C++ programming (I was an "older" student). That was the last time I used Microsoft operating systems on my systems. Linux, with its variety of distros and applications, have always more than met my expectations. There is no doubt in my mind that Linux has ALWAYS been a threat to the monopoly in software OS's (and m$ knows it!).

crudder
crudder

The factors that drive me to "open source", ( when I say that I mean primarily GPL or BSD licensed software ) are much less an issue of cost and more an issue of available knowledge. In the IT world, as we all know, training and a lot of the time documentation is pricey. I appreciate the fact that I can find online documentation, roll out an instance of xyz product, read the source and play with it a order to learn the product. Most proprietary software, would have you pay for the software, the documentation, and then keep you "on the hook" for support and updates. Another factor is the cross-platform abilities of many products. They are developed for Windows and that client works great, but the others OS X and Linux are not so good. Where most "open sourced" products are developed with the idea that they need to play nice with others.

techrepublic2
techrepublic2

I'll use whatever is required to get the work done. I prefer open source, but realize that there are a lot of specialized tools whose open source versions just don't compare to what's available commercially. It's all about do the the best job for the customer as quickly and efficiently as possible.

nate.irvin
nate.irvin

At first blush, I am not an open-source user. I am a developer who works in the WINS stack, my expertise lies in C# and IIS. However, I use a significant number of open-source products in my job, as direct replacements to specific proprietary products. I simply choose whatever I think works best; sometimes it's something proprietary, sometimes it's something open-source. From time to time I think about exploring Linux and open-source development technologies (e.g., WebSphere, PHP), but I can never get motivated to do so. Part of that is certainly because I've never had to eat the cost of using proprietary software - my company has always paid for the Visual Studio licenses and provided servers. But another part of it is that I don't have any real reason to do so. I don't have any big complaints about Windows or other proprietary software I use - I haven't seen a BSOD in over a decade, and I've never run up against some proprietary/license limitation that posed any real difficulty. Converting from proprietary products like Office, Visual Studio, and Windows to open-source equivalents would require a lot of adjustment and personal re-training, and while I'm sure after a while I'd be just as happy, I don't think I'd be happier, so why go through the effort?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

only down time was for the reboot to get the newer OS kernel into memory. I've ripped the complete logging system out of a machine and replaced it without service interruption for the users. Perhaps more a benefit of the OS architecture than the development model though. I like to tinker. I like not having to count licenses and manage CALS; if I want to test a new server build, I don't have to ask permission, cut a VM and install. I like the OS agnostic approach. Many open source programs are written to run across multiple distributions and branding. I can use the same mail program across all three major OS families. I wouldn't trust a security related program that was not open source or well on it's way to becoming so.

jfuller05
jfuller05

If the free, open-source software works just as good as the paid version then why not use open-source?

hometoy
hometoy

I am a fairly cheap bastard when it comes to computers. I've bought 2 computers total: one in 2000 and one in 2011. Everything in-between has been corporate cast-offs and they have and are serving me well. Linux, and Open Source, provides me the tools to take these cast-offs and give them a new, rich life without having to spend a lot of money. I have had a firewall and content filter system right off my modem, for example, as my first line of defense. I have been able to explore technologies that I otherwise would have either had to plunk money down for software or licenses, or try and learn everything I can during a trial period (and the work or removing the trialware afterwards). LTSP and thin clients are one example. Multiple tasks, I have found, are easier to perform with certain Linux distros and open source software than with Windows. So I like Open Source for its flexibility for performing numerous tasks, opportunity to learn about computing in general and not just applications, and to get things done that would take more work to do otherwise. All this, and there is a lot of documentation to lead you on your way too!

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I'm a DIY kind of guy and like the ability to modify and extend server systems w/o starting from scratch. OTOH I use proprietary on the client side to interface to said open source on the back-end.

anil_g
anil_g

I work in a mixed OS infrastructure, primarily Windows servers on the network with some Mac and Linux servers. It's notable that the Mac / Linux servers only have issues related to the software running on them. The system itself is just so faultless its invisible. It just keeps going without any intervention. The Windows infrastructure routinely requires reboots. They're not actually running any user software, all they need to do is keep the network and authentication infrastructure up. They normally exhibit bizarre issues on an irregular basis: dropping DNS records (!), network file permissions changing "by themselves", key configuration reverting to default periodically, and just running slow or not running at all, until reboot. I don't know if this is inherent in the system, or its just harder to operate consistently, but it's not working. I think the point and click orientation brings in unreliability in itself. Linux/UNIX leverages text files to drive configuration and function and thus it's more reliable and more automatble.

BrightLibra@Gmail.com
BrightLibra@Gmail.com

The issue is not "threat" but is functionality and availability. I remember getting most of the Micro$oft stuff for free and after Windows 95 (2K) being shifted into a cycle of purchasing the product and license for use. Having been in personal computers since they were Xerox 820's I remember the slow and steady shift away from "stuff we wrote" and "stuff that was standard." The standard shift from the real and defined standard to something Microsoft wanted was where BSD license and open source became the right alternative. It is more than free, it is part of "me."

apotheon
apotheon

The ability to make changes in a modular manner without interrupting unrelated services may be a result of the system architecture rather than the development model, but to a nontrivial extent the system architecture is a result of the development model -- especially after decades of continuing development. Re: security, hell yes, 111% agreement. No, that's not in binary. It's not even in decimal. That's 111 in hexadecimal. 0x111 out of decimal 100. I agree a lot, in other words.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Unix, Linux, and Mac design their OS software to work with the hardware by using the accepted Industry Standard Command sets that have been around for ages, while Microsoft design their OS software however they like and then demand the hardware manufacturers make the hardware to work with their MS Windows software.; to make it harder again, MS keep changing the command sets and creating hardware / software incompatibilities.