A common misconception is that the 'Free' in FOSS terms actually means 'free from cost' but this is not strictly true. However, providing software that is free from purchasing and ongoing licensing costs in an important way of maintaining freedom because it removes the biggest inhibitor of these aspirations – a lack of ability to pay. In developing nations, this is critical.
While FOSS is generally free from purchase and on-going licensing costs the reality is that we live in a world that is structured around market economics and organisations have to generate revenue to survive. Being able to profit from FOSS has never been discouraged and there are many organisations who derive revenue by supplying services that support the effective use of FOSS. The result is that users and organisations receive a low cost, high quality product from something that is in-fact a software development strategy!
- No Vendor Lock-in - Of all the benefits of Open Source software, the key benefit ascribed by respondents of a Computer Economics survey (http://www.computereconomics.com/article.cfm?id=1043) is a 'reduced dependence on software vendors'. Everyone has heard of horror stories where organisations are not happy with the software they have, sunk considerable investment into the software, in terms of time and money, but just cannot justify replacing their systems. The only way to then improve their systems is to buy yet more software from a vendor they are not necessarily pleased with. This is known as vendor lock-in and is an active strategy pursued by some vendors. Problems include:
- corporate take-overs leading to changes in strategy that no longer match your organisation's
- organisations going into liquidation without escrow agreements so the software has no future
- vendors killing-off software products you currently use because you are no longer in their target market
- forced adoption of other products to received required functionality
- changes to suite configuration forcing you to purchase different software that contains current functionality
- forced upgrades (or receive financial penalties)
- cessation of support if you try to integrate a competitors product
- exhorbitant labour charges because there are no competitors
- No purchase or ongoing license fees - No purchase or ongoing license fees makes the software low cost be not free from any costs. Business Value – benefits received by an organisation divided by cost – must still be determined. This means that if Open Source software provides similar benefits when compared with a commercial equivalent then Open Source software is likely to provide greater business value because of the low costs.
- No management of commercial licensing - Medium to large organisation often have one or more full-time resources dedicated to managing software licensing and is a hidden cost often overlooked by some organisations! This means that the user has to manage the vendor's licensing or be subject to the dreaded 'software audit'. Commercial licenses change often and require considerable effort just to ensure the organisation doesn't breach terms.
- Reduced procurement processes - Spending considerable funds, particularly in the public sector, requires open and transparent policies that ensure probity. Because Open Source software does not incur purchasing and licensing costs means that recurrent budgets are not impacted and there is less of a burden imposed by procurement requirements. While authorisation and consultation is still required, implementing Open Source can significantly reduce procurement procedures that can sometimes take years to comply with when purchasing expensive commercial software.
- Availability of source code - The source code from Open Source software is available to everyone so this effectively means that the user owns the source code. Of course, you then have the freedom to change it to suit your own purposes and are not bound by draconian restrictions imposed by IP owners. There is no one with the power to restrict in a unilateral way the use of the software and there is no one single entity on which the future of the software depends. Owning the source code overcomes many critical risks like the cessation of organisations or the software application you currently use.
- No 'blackboxes' - The algorithms used by some vendors is hidden in 'black-boxes'. This means that the way information is derived is unclear and cannot be confirmed. If information derived from other means is contradictory then it is hard to determine which method is correct. Moreover, the user starts to doubt the software because the methods it adopts are unclear and not desirable when a considerable investment has been made is the software.
- The ability to fork the software - Open Source projects consists of communities who have particular needs in mind. If a project starts to develop in a way not conducive to a sub-community then they can choose to 'fork' the project. This approach uses the current code base and develops it for different purposes. For example, see OpenOffice and LibreOffice.
- Speed and quality of development - Open Source was once ridiculed by commercial software vendors as an inferior product. The landscape has dramatically changed and now many argue the reverse. Large organisations like Google actively use Open Source for competitive advantage and employ it as a key development strategy. Google's Android project has demonstrated how using Open Source as a development methodology can produce effective competition for Apple's IOS in a very short time.
The Business Case
While Open Source software offers many advantages, the business case must still be made. FOSS is no different to commercial software in this regard and such things as business value, risk analysis, etc must be adequately assessed. However, there is much mis-information about Open Source that needs to be confirmed and not taken at face value. Moreover, Open Source offers all the traditional services, generally speaking, but they are delivered in different ways. For example, support is often community based. The challenge for Business Analysts is ensuring that they have all the facts about Open Source so that an effective and objective evaluation can be conducted.
Open Source Software Applications
- FreeBSD - a complete Unix based OS. Used by a few Councils
- Centos - a complete Unix/Linux based OS. Used by at least a few Councils.
- Ubuntu - a Desktop Linux OS
- The Gimp - an Image Manipulation Program, for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
- LibreOffice - Office Suite
- Open Office - Spreadsheet & Word Processor
- OpenProj - Open Source Project Management
- FireFox - Web Browser (If you don't see the point of changing over to FireFox, the "Adblock Plus" add-on might change your mind.)
- Inkscape - Vector graphics editor
- Freemind - Mind Mapping software
- CalemEAM - Asset Management System
- PDF Creator - PDF Printer
Computer Aided Drafting
- DoubleCAD XT is an AutoCAD LT® work-alike. But free.
- GRASS GIS - Geographical Information System
- mapserver – Web based GIS spacial server. Amazon has a few books on the software
- PostGIS/PostgreSQL - Spatial enabled SQL Database
- OpenJump – JAVA based GIS Client
- MapWindow - Windows based GIS Client
- FDO - API for manipulating, defining and analyzing geospatial information regardless of where it is stored.
- Quantum GIS - Open Source Geographical Information System
- Geospatial Data Abstraction Library - a translator library for raster geospatial data formats
- Asterisk - Enterprise VoIP server - a few Councils are using this as their PABX
- Postfix - Mail server, can act as a stand alone mail server, or a front end to Exchange. Used by at least a few Councils. Works well.
- Wireshark - network protocol monitoring
- MailScanner - Spam filter and Antivirus filter. Used by at least a few Councils. Works well.
- Subversion - code/file version control and repository. Used by at least a few Councils to version control scripts and IT documents.
- Tortoise - Windows based subversion client
- Gencontrol - remote management of workstations
Content Management Systems
- Drupal - Web Content Management System (WCMS).
- Plone - Zope/Python based Content Management System (CMS).
- Joomla - PHP/MySQL based Content Management System (CMS)
- OpenPublic - OpenPublic is an open-source, content management system (CMS) based on Drupal and tailored to the needs of government.
- Xen - OSS server virtualisation - at least one Council is using this software
Water, Stormwater and Sewer Network Modelling Software
- Sanitary Sewer Overflow Analysis and Planning Toolbox
- HEC RAS is designed to perform one-dimensional hydraulic calculations for a full network of natural and constructed channels.
- STEDI A Spatial Tool for Estimating Dam Impacts
- ANUGA Hydrodynamic and Hydraulic Modelling Riverine flooding, dam breaks, tsunami modelling
- CityDrain A toolbox for integrated modelling of urban drainage systems
Water and Wastewater Pipes Renewal Planners
- D-WARP -- Distribution Water Mains Renewal Planner (Free one year trial period.)
Statistical Analysis Software
Library Management Software
- Koha - Free and open source Library Management System (LMS)
Related Pages, Articles & Links
- Open Source Local Government Software Suite
- Open Collaborative Design
- Open Standard
- Open Technology Foundation
- Future directions in information technology (Local Government Focus / Paul Hamilton)
- Open source software: the way of the future? (Local Government Focus / Paul Hamilton)
- 20 Great Windows Open Source Projects (Techworld)
- Geeks Bearing Gifts (Nicholas Gruen)
External Links & References
- List of free and open source software packages (Wikipedia)
- Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies
- Whirlpool Freeware Page
- GNU General Public License (Wikipedia Article)
- Free Software Magazine
- List of open source software packages (Wikipedia)
- Australian IT Article about Open Source Software in Hospitals
- Open Source Google+ Page
- Seven essential qualities of open source
- Danish municipalities using open source to innovate and collaborate
- Open Sorce for Government (Google+)