Thanks to the kindness of my boss, I am soon going to become very educated in Open Source Software. I just received approval to go to OSCON 2010, the leading open source software event. So what is open source software? It’s essentially computer software where the source code is made available to the public (most importantly the community of developers) to be altered, revised or tweaked to improve the software. Unlike a lot of software products where the source code is copyrighted, open source software is available with flexible licenses, such as a Creative Commons license.
So why is Open Source Software so interesting to me? Besides the high-level thoughts about how it can spur innovation and all that, it’s mostly because I hate feeling locked in – locked into a room because of the weather, locked into a service agreement on my mobile phone, or locked into a vendor because they created the software. For a long-term web development project, my company was locked into a proprietary Content Management System (CMS). When it was developed many years back, it was innovative and served us well, but like many proprietary software it became outdated. There were updates to it, but it wasn’t keeping pace with new products hitting the market. Whenever we wanted something new not in the original CMS, we had to pay for development of it. We stuck with the product because of the time, work and cost it would take to move to a new CMS.
Well all that is changing. We have decided that the long term cost of sticking with a propriety CMS will be more than switching to a new, more sophisticated CMS – and we are switching to an Open Source Software solution. So why Open Source? We believe it will allow us greater flexibility for the future. Open Source Software – especially if you choose a mainstream one with a large community of developers behind it – can generally be easily updated, is constantly being revamped and innovative plug-ins are regularly developed. And more than one vendor/developer will know how to work with it. This means you aren’t locked into a vendor, you can add-in new features fairly easily, and you also aren’t paying licensing fees.
There are certainly potential concerns about a move to Open Source for management of our website. Many people raise security concerns, especially in terms of hacking. Also there is the question of the type of guaranteed support and service you can get compared to a licensed software. But at the same time, many prominent organizations have shifted to Open Source Software for their websites such as the White House and Sony Music.
I’m not sure Open Source Software is right in every circumstance, but it is certainly something I believe should be considered when making software decisions. I’m excited about our upcoming migration to an open source software for our corporate website and I look forward to hearing the latest thinking and developments in it open source at OSCON. I will certainly be posting multiple times from there. Let me know if you have any experiences with Open Source Software!