Open Source. It’s probably something everyone has heard of at one point or the other in their lives. Mostly from that utterly geeky friend who took to Java the way we take to English or Hindi or Tamil or whatever. Honestly. The way he went on about it, I’d think he’d begin speaking in it soon…
Uhm! Anyway, forget my programmer friends, they’re not whom we’re here to discuss. Back to business.
So, open source. What is it? What’s so special about it? And more importantly, why is a magazine on startups covering it? If you’re an engineer, you can safely ignore this article and start from the next. But for the uninitiated, this article may be able to introduce you to something which will make you save a lot of money.
What is Open Source Software?
All software is written and then taken through a process called compiling. Generally, the software which we get on our computers is compiled. Before compilation, software is essentially human-readable code. Microsoft and other commercial software firms sell us compiled code, so that it cannot be modified.
Open source software is code accessible to anyone. As the name suggests, the source code of the software is freely available. And most open source licenses have no problems in a provision allowing you to modify the code and distributing it. You can take the code, change the logos, re-brand the software and actually sell it for a profit, no one cares. (Don’t adopt that as a business strategy. I’d rather download the free version.)
However, that is not the part of open source we’re interested in, are we now? Open source is good because it is generally free. Free means totally free. No royalties, hidden costs or anything of that sort.
- Open source software can be set up with little cost to a startup. In the beginning, when investors generally give you short shtick, something which saves costs can be a life saver.
- No viruses. Open source software has no viruses. While it may seem fantastic, but it’s totally true. It also goes through a peer-review very like what academic papers go through. Programmers and users from around the world use it, look over the code and critique it to the point where it becomes good.
Convinced yet? Yes? Read on!
Software of note
While I can not cover the intricacies of open source in one small measly article, I can provide a small overview of what kind of software is of use to entrepreneurs once they have set up some office space and got some computers.
- Linux – Topping the list is Linux, and which person has not heard of it? In passing or in great detail, Linux has been heard of and used by a majority of computer-literate people out there. Android is a flavour of Linux. Ubuntu is a flavour of Linux. It’s there all around us. Linux powers 90% of the servers in the world. It powers the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and a majority of supercomputers. The famous action sequences of “The Matrix” were rendered on Linux. Its pedigree cannot be denied, nor can its usefulness.
- ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning software is about as useful to a business as a computer is to a programmer. ‘Nuff said. In the open source world, we have quite a few programs which we may use for this purpose. The program in mind is OpenERP, which has a long history and a good feature set.
- Corporate Clouds – Few people have heard of OpenCloud. It’s an open source implementation of services similar to Dropbox, Skydrive, Sugarsync etc. Its specialty is that it has no servers of its own, all one has to do is to install it on a server of one’s own choice and voila! A private cloud hosted on a server of your choice. Way better than having to pay Dropbox for that one TB collaborative storage plan of theirs!
- Office Suites – While Microsoft Office is the unquestioned champion of Office Suites right now, that dominance is being slowly and surely being eroded by its greatest open source rival, Libreoffice. Behind that oh-so-nineties interface, Libreoffice shines. It has all the programs you need to quickly get on your feet and start composing business plans and making presentations.
- Others – There are other programs, like standalone financial programs and such which are of great use to people just starting up. I’ll be covering them in an article or two as well.
A small word here
As entrepreneurs, all of us are in the race to win. Quite a few of those of you reading this article will scoff at the points I make. Isn’t it much easier to simply use pirated software? All you need is a crack!
True. Quite true. However, we all must understand and appreciate the fact that people have spent time and effort to make that software. It is ethically wrong to steal any software you plan on using. Please do remember that there may come a time where your software will be subject to piracy (if you manage to make it big as a software company). It is good to give the same courtsies one expects.
And on a more practical note, while software providers are forgiving when it comes to consumers, businesses aren’t given so much leeway. If a business is blacklisted, there are problems. And while lawsuits against individual consumers barely give you any money, Microsoft vs XYZ startup is a no-brainer. Microsoft’s legal team is probably bigger than it’s team of programmers.
So on that note, I ask you to stay tuned to this series of articles for more on open source and cost-saving!