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What Are Reasons for Business to Use Open Source Software?

Essay by   •  June 17, 2013  •  Research Paper  •  2,500 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,393 Views

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What are reasons for business to use open source software?

With the current economy difficulties, companies are trying to find areas in their businesses where they can save money. Many companies are having no choice but to let people go. Some businesses try to avoid lay-offs and instead are looking in other areas to save money. One of the areas is, of course, the IT department; software application acquisition is an area that might lead to a big money savings. Even in financially difficulties times, businesses want or need to improve their application environment. Sometimes it might even be necessary to invest in the IT infrastructure for long-term savings, which may result in the company not needing to close their doors. But many business owners or CEO's will question if open source software is ready for business. This research paper intends to answer this question. The best reason to use open source software in a business environment is cost savings. This gives the business freedom to use software and change the source code in other words, modify how the software application is used, as it is needed. Open source removes the need for dependence on single vendor solutions and it provides very high quality applications and very good support.

To understand open source software it is important to know what open source is, and what the meaning of open source software is. This research paper will also show where open source came from; the history of open source software. In the beginning software programmers and hardware manufactures exchanged the source code to give everyone the chance to improve the code and build up on it.

In the mid 1980's Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation, an organization that developed the "GNU's Not Unix" (GNU) system, an operation system that is compatible with the UNIX system. At this time Stallman licensed all his software under the GNU General Public License, a license model invented by him to allow the free use of his software (Matthew Barr, n.a.). In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a student of the University of Helsinki, started to program the kernel of the Linux system, and he licensed Linux through the GNU later on. In the mid 90's Stallman adopted the Linux kernel and called his operation system GNU/Linux.

But what does open source really mean? The name itself already answers one question, that the source code is open. Open source does not mean only that the source code is open available. Open source software must comply ten criterion that are defined through the Open Source Initiative. The most important criterion is the free redistribution of the software. Any software that is licensed under GNU needs to be free of charge. "The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale" (OSI, n.a.). Also very important is the fact that the license must allow the change of the source code, and give the right to distribute the software under the same license as the original software. One other criterion is that the open source software can not restrict other software.

Proprietary software is well known to apply to common business models. In order to see if open source software is able to apply to the business model as well, we need to compare both software models. This research paper will compare the two different business models with three important criteria's. These criteria's are the important for any decision maker in a company.

The cost of a new application or operation system (OS) is a very important factor to consider. A recent MS Windows 7 licenses cost approximately $200 (Microsoft, 2010). The cost of a Linux distribution is $0. You can download a recent OS from different distributers like SuSE, Ubuntu, Debian or RedHat, just to mention a few. Another source to save money is the hardware requirements for each OS. A recent Linux OS requires much lower computer specifications, such as memory and processor, compared to the newest Windows 7 OS. For example, the Ubuntu OS requires only a 700 MHz processor and 386 MB of memory (RAM) (Ubnutu, 2010). Windows 7 requires a minimum of 1 GHz processor and 1GB of RAM (Microsoft, 2010). These are just a few example on how open source could save money, but to understand how businesses are able to save money we need to understand the total cost of ownership (TCO). How is TCO defined? Netc.org describes TCO on their website in a very understandable way, "The total price in money, time, and resources of owning and using software. TCO is widely considered to include the purchase price, and the cost of hardware and software upgrades, maintenance and technical support, and training. TCO is an essential part of technology decision making since a product may be cheap or free to get, but involve excessive maintenance or training. TCO is not unique to computers. For example, the TCO for commercial jets is measured in cost per mile. This calculation includes the sale price of the plane, the cost of fuel and other expendables, maintenance and repairs, etc." (Netc.org, n.a.). All these factors together make it clear that the TCO for open source software is lower. There is no license cost and the cost for hardware is most likely lower because of less hardware requirements. Details about service and support will be discussed later in this article, but it is important to know that there is support available for open source. A free service through a community that is available via a forum or other message boards. Some distributers implemented a bug tracker website. Through this website everyone is able to post a bug that is found in the software.

The second factor is the security of open source software. Recently, the access to the internet through a company network and the extensive use of email communication makes the protection of the client's information and servers increasingly important. A virus can be easily spread through an email and a Trojan can be loaded onto an OS just by visiting a website. Microsoft Windows systems are very vulnerable to attacks from viruses, Trojan or malware. To protect a Windows client or server, businesses need to invest in protection software like McAfee or Norton Antivirus applications. Linux OS are almost never vulnerable to viruses, Trojans or malware. The reason for this lies in the permission and access control of Linux systems. In order to install a virus onto a Linux system the application needs to gain administrator, or root rights. Many companies are even using Linux as their firewall system. "A standard tactic on many networks is to employ a secure Linux box as a firewall, intercepting intruders before they hit the network, and Security Enhanced Linux (SeLinux), developed by the US National Security Administration (NSA), is a component of many Linux systems." (Hillesley, 2009).

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