Getting to the root of OSS debate


Review by STEPHEN BOEY 

Title: The Great Software Debate – Open, Free Or Proprietary? 

Publisher: Juken Consultancy  

Price: RM29.50 

 

IT'S BEEN around for about a decade now. And lately, it has developed into a hot topic, with nations, particularly in the developing world, including Malaysia, expressing keen interest in it. 

It's open source software (OSS), which many, mistakenly, equate to Linux, currently the most talked about OSS. 

While the tech-savvy are familiar with Linux and its many flavours – thanks to the Internet, and in more ways than one – the average home computer user's impression of OSS is like the impression the four blind men have of the elephant. 

It's like a tree trunk (one blind man says, feeling the elephant's legs); it's like a rope (the tail); it's like a wall (the body); it's like a snake (the trunk). And for the average home computer user, Linux or Red Hat, the most successful Linux distributor, comes more readily to mind than the generic term open source software

Now, with the major information technology (IT) giants – IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Apple, and Oracle among them – offering Linux systems or applications of one flavour or another, open source software has made increased appearances in the public eye. 

The Great Software Debate – Open, Free or Proprietary? is a timely and useful companion for those who want more than the blind man's impression of open source software.  

In a slim 86-page handbook, Juken Consultancy Sdn Bhd spells out in layman's language what the open source software debate is all about – beginning with the background to the OSS development.  

Juken Consultancy describes it as the first comprehensive attempt in the world to explain and clarify the OSS issue with the views and positions of both sides. 

The handbook notes the little known fact that “open source in Malaysia goes as far back in the early 1980s with the establishment of the network that was to be the precursor to Jaring”, the country's first Internet Service Provider. 

Local OSS applications developers should find the chapter on the Malaysian scenario a veritable goldmine. It points out some of the efforts being taken by the government, which has allocated RM5.2bil under the Eighth Malaysia Plan (2001-05) for IT-related projects, to make technology available to a larger population at a lower cost. 

Juken Consultancy also notes that skills – key to OSS adoption in the country – are lacking in every aspect of OSS implementation, from systems administration to application development, general users and trainers of OSS programming languages. In other words, there's money to be made in the training field. 

A discussion on Linux cannot be complete without a comparison to Microsoft Corp's Windows operating system, a must-read chapter for decision makers in companies considering a migration to OSS. It covers both the technical aspects as well as the business viewpoint, including the total cost of operation.  

An alternative Linux-based OS, not discussed in this handbook, is Lindows. Using products from its Click-N-Run Warehouse, this software vendor claims, users will be able to edit all the popular file types, including those for Micro-soft's suite of office productivity applications. For more information on Lindows visit www.lindows.com. 

While many perceive OSS as free software, this is not entirely true. The Linux kernel is freely distributed online, but users pay for pre-packaged operating systems put together by distributors – the most established of which are Red Hat, SCO (formerly Caldera), SuSE and TurboLinux. OSS developers also derive revenue from technical services and support, and writing applications that run on top of these systems. 

The business pie is thus very much a major consideration in the OSS controversy, which explains why the growing acceptance of OSS has made Microsoft uneasy. Although Microsoft controls more than 90% of the PC operating system market, to stay competitive it must push increasingly into corporate and government data centres – a market now controlled by IBM and Red Hat. 

This and other interesting insights on the OSS controversy, which Juken Consultancy presents objectively without taking a position on either side, makes this slim handbook an informative and interesting read.  

 

l Juken Consultancy is a Kuala Lumpur-based research think-tank and knowledge-driven consultancy firm focusing on technology and strategic issues. For more information, call 03-2093-6988 or visit www.jukenworld.com 

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