Why Go Open Source?30 Aug 2010
IBM originally built cash registers and calculation machines back in the late 19th century, this boomed and spurred a whole consumer goods industry that could sell things quickly as store clerks did not have to actually do the math for the cost of goods themselves. They simply typed in the price of goods and they could quickly give the total amount owed.
As those items became a commodity with mass production the same businesses that were selling the products and goods needed calculation machines in order to keep track of all the items sold and the money they made from it. This is what turned IBM into the powerhouse it became in business, they offered something to the business world that no large company could live without, the mainframe computer. In those days computers were enormous and could take up entire floors of a companies office building if not the whole building itself. IBM made sure that it stayed on top of the computer industry by catering to the larger companies and somewhat ignoring the smaller businesses that couldn’t afford their services. In those days the adage was, you can’t get fired for buying IBM. Then the micro computer revolution came about with the invention of Apple Computers in the late 70’s and early 80’s, suddenly every business wanted to get a computer into their offices and the mainframe computers became essentially a commodity. Though these smaller computers where still very expensive, they became valuable because they could do a lot in a very small space and this is what really kick started the Technology Industry. Then IBM had a plan, they would do exactly what Apple had done to them, they would turn the Micro Computer into a commodity and in the 80’s they released the IBM Personal Computer which allowed you to take parts from different manufacturers to build or update your own computer.
Remember when I said that when a product in an industry becomes a commodity, there is always something there to take it’s place in value? Software would eventually become valuable and the small company which IBM hired to build the Operating System called Microsoft would make one of the largest fortunes in all of history on top of Big Blue’s mistakes, IBM thought it was in the computer business and not the software business. They thought they could both destroy Apple by turning the PC into a commodity all the while taking over the business with the only part of their computer which was proprietary, their BIOS. The BIOS is a small chip that helps to start the computer and IBM really believed that they would corner the market since anyone that wanted to buy an IBM compatible machine had to pay them for what was essentially the key to the whole thing. As soon as the PC launched, companies like Compaq and others very quickly reverse engineered the IBM BIOS and soon everyone could sell their own IBM compatible computer or the PC.
As I said before, Microsoft’s rise to power came at the blunder that IBM made, they allowed Microsoft to license their software meaning that IBM and anyone else who wanted to use their Operating Systems and programs had to pay them a licensing fee for every computer they installed their programs on. Taking into consideration that each program is digital and didn’t really cost anything for the company to reproduce meant that they could easily sell millions if not billions of copies of their programs at outrageously expensive prices and make nothing but pure profit after development and maintenance expenses where paid off. This idea of making a fortune out of very little work is what spawned the great Tech Gold Rush to Silicon Valley and spurred hundreds if not thousands of start ups to build their own programs and software to sell at very little cost to millions.
Since computers where now a commodity and could be purchased everywhere from anyone the sky was the limit to the number of customers a software development firm could have and the amount of money it could make. Remember this is before the Internet and the commercial web. It’s around this time that Open Source really entered the stage in a meaningful way though it’s history goes back much further than that. With the introduction of the Free Software Foundation and Linux the Pandora’s box was open to what could be done for free both on your computer and online. In essence Software became valuable and grew into a powerhouse industry to rival all others before it.
Fast forward to our modern day world, Open Source Software has made leaps and bounds in development and many programs now rival their commercial counterparts in both features and capabilities. Many companies seeing the usefulness of not paying for software and licensing have jumped on the OSS band wagon in an effort to cut down on costs and free themselves from depending on technology that may or may not be around a few years down the road. We have reached a point where now software has become a commodity and this is one of the most important transitions in the history of computers because it means that anyone, anywhere can mix code to create tools never imagined before. Now as I had stated, when something becomes a commodity, something else must take it’s place as valuable. I will talk about what that something is later on but for now I want you to understand the freeing power of Open Source Software and what it can do for your business.
So whether you are a large enterprise firm or a small company with just a few computers and employees, switching to Open Source may be the best decision you ever make financially. There are still some issues that must be tackled to include where you find support and training for your employees to use these programs but that can all be handled and taken care of easily and there are plenty of tools to get you through that which we will also cover later on. For now just remember that the commercial software companies may still look like a good option now, yet with more people switching over, companies like Microsoft and Oracle will want to maintain their obscene profits and in order to do that they will try to make their customers more and more dependent on their tools. These companies will do everything possible to keep you from being able to make the switch down the road and once they have that safe customer base which will pay anything keep their product, they will raise their prices more and more. IBM was like that with their mainframe computers and Apple did much the same thing when they realized that certain Apple users wouldn’t switch to PCs.
Regardless of what your IT guy might tell you, really consider open source, most IT people spend years getting certified to work with these expensive software tools and it’s their worst nightmare to hear that you are ready to switch to a system that they are not trained on or may have to get re-certified for. I might get some slack for saying all of this but you need to think about the needs of your business before the needs of your IT staff, if they are good at what they do then they will follow your lead and not dictate to you just what their comfortable with. Studies have been done that show the more knowledgeable an IT department is the more likely they are to adopt new ideas and new systems that aren’t necessarily the norm in big business. So whether someone tells you that Open Source is not reliable or you can’t find support for it or none of us know how to use it because there isn’t enough training that just isn’t the case. If implementing these tools will save your company thousands of dollars in fees then it’s worth your time to check out the alternatives and really see if the numbers fit for you and your company.