Is open source right for your company?

Open source software generally refers to a program, including all its source code, which is available free of charge to the general public. This gives you the ability to use the software “as is” or make modifications to the core program to suit your needs.

The software is community based with no proprietary ownership or concern for financial gain. This allows the software to evolve, by removing bugs and adding improvements, at a much faster pace than commercial products.

There have been several acknowledgements by major companies that attest to the viability of open source programs. In November 2006, Novell and Microsoft announced an agreement to work together to improve the interoperability between Linux and Windows and put in place a new intellectual property bridge between proprietary and open source software. Dell Computers announced in May that they are going to offer desktop and notebook products preloaded with the Ubuntu open source operating system.

What does this mean for your business?

Typically utilized by more advanced computer users, open source is now becoming more main stream. The open source community has made software packages much easier to load and configure for the average user. This gives you more options as a business owner when making computer software decisions.

It is possible to build a fully functional business workstation without spending a dime on software. As research for this article, I decided to try loading the Ubuntu operating system myself. I began by downloading the Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn program and burning it to a CD.  

I slipped the CD in the machine and loaded the software without a hitch. Nothing came up during the load that an average user couldn’t handle. Once the software was loaded, it had quite a few updates to process and that took some time. It became apparent during the updates that I had a lot more than a simple operating system on my machine. I had a full blown workstation that connected seamlessly to my Windows Server network.

There were many different programs automatically loaded and available with Ubuntu. The following list is of particular interest to business owners:

OpenOffice. This is a suite of programs including database, presentation, spreadsheet and word processing

Evolution. An integrated mail program that includes address book, task list and calendaring functionality.

Firefox. An award-winning web browser.

It’s no accident that these programs are viable replacements for the most popular proprietary software available. It’s also worth noting that the Open Office applications can save and open documents in Microsoft Office formats.

I have been using Microsoft Excel for many years and decided to give the Open Office spreadsheet a try. It was less of a challenge to switch from Office 2003 to Open Office than it was to switch to Office 2007.

Small companies and startups that don’t have the budget for proprietary software should consider open source as a viable option. You can also build a business workstation at home for only the cost of the hardware.

Until recently, I was one of open source’s harshest critics. I didn’t think free software could be as good as proprietary programs, but I was wrong. When you are reviewing your choices for software; don’t forget about all the open source products available. You might find them to be the best solution for your business.

Lori Griffiths is chief finance officer of Wild Web Works, which offers quality website design and hosting services. The company has been in business since 1999, relocating to Vancouver in 2005. Call 360-882-9005 or visit www.wildwebworks.com for more information.

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