o s s africa

:: Open Source

Because Open Source software isn't normally installed with most users' PCs, there are often many questions about what Open Source is, how it works, and of course: Is it really free?

Here are a few FAQs about Open Source which help to clarify what Open Source is:

The myths of open source

Open source is free.

Much is always said about open source being free. It is, mostly. However , any complex software system requires knowledge and experience to implement effectively. Knowledgable and experienced people do not work for free in a commercial environment.

Much of the emphasis in "free" is on the freedom that open source offers you. The freedom gained from using open source by far eclipses the benefits of a free download. The interoperability and open standards upheld by most open source products means you are never locked out of your own system. You choose what you want to do, when you want to do it and with which software. No-one forces you to buy an upgrade or limits the number of computers you can connect to your server.

There is no support for open source software

Well, OSS Africa offers support for a large number of open source programs, so clearly thats not true! There are an increasing number of companies following in our footsteps and offering support services of open source software. In addition to commercial entities, all open source projects have an active community of developers and technically minded users participating in forums and mailing lists.

Open source is legally untested

This is a commonly held misperception. The licenses under which most open source software is distributed are robust, legally sound documents.

Copyright and patent infringement are always concerns. Open source software is substantially protected from these kinds of claims by the fact that the source code is easily examinable. If there is any suspicion that an open source product is using unauthorised, copyrighted code or is infringing on a patent, its easy to prove or disprove. This makes it highly unlikely that this kind of code will remain in the package for long. There is no way of knowing whether your closed source product is breaking the law in any way. In fact, in a number of instances, open sourced code has been found in closed source products and invariably the closed source product loses the ensuing court case.

Open source isn't ready for the desktop.

That depends on who's desktop we're talking about. OSS Africa uses only Linux desktops for all daily activity. We have installed a number of Linux desktops and laptops for our clients. Before installing a Linux desktop or laptop, it is important to analyse a users specific needs. Many useful Microsoft Windows programs do not run on Linux. Where using an equivalent Linux based program is out of the question, it is

We have found the biggest hurdle to properly adopting Linux on the desktop has been the user's previous experience with other desktop operating systems. People need time to adjust to the specific differences. Some of our most successful transitions have been amongst people who don't have a great deal of experience with computers at all. They learn to use Linux without being trained in other ways of thinking.

Open source is always better than proprietary.

Absolutely not. Thats just nonsense. Every environment and situation is different and requires a unique approach. Although the philosophical underpinnings of open source software are about freedom and no matter how much we would like to agree, this does not go far in a boardroom. OSS Africa has a firm grasp of the realities of business.

Open source means anyone can alter the source code.

Although this is true, its not practical. Most people would not know how to alter the source code even if they wanted to. To alter the source code to add functionality for instance, would usually require hiring a competent programmer, or even a programmer working on the project. Most open source projects work based on an informal hierachy of developers with a pre-defined list of features which they work on.

There is no quality control in open source projects

Open source projects have some of the finest quality control measures in existance. First of all, open source developers actually use their own software . They don't write code for open source projects, and then go home and use a completely different product. This means, they actually test their own software. Secondly, all open source projects tend to have substantial user bases. Feedback from actual users is the best quality control you can have. It is impossible for a commercial software company to replicate all the possible contexts in which their software will be run. Where some people choose to use the less well developed, cutting edge versions of a program, in production environments, we use stable, tried and tested versions only.

We sometimes get the feeling that some commercial software sompanies sell their products well before they are ready to be used, making you one of their testers after you've bought their product...

There is no accountability in open source software

This is a rather interesting claim. It suggests that there is accountability in proprietary products. Have you ever heard of anyone suing Microsoft because all their mail got wiped when they installed Service Pack 2? Niether have we. In fact, most proprietary software companies specifically indemnify themselve in their end-user license agreements. The best thing to do, is maintain a proper backup routine for your data.