April 27, 2005 By Shane Peterson
For all the talk of a nimble private sector, plenty of software companies move at a glacial pace when making changes demanded by customers.
Change is a curious thing. Some people thrive on it. Some hate it. When it's happening, there's no time to appreciate what it will bring. After the dust settles and everybody gets used to things, they generally agree that change isn't as bad as they thought it would be. Sometimes it's even good.
Open source software is big change. The concept of people giving away a piece of software for free and allowing the whole world to look at the software's source code doesn't exactly match the customary way of doing business in technology.
Proprietary source code and pricey software ruled the IT market. Adding insult to injury, the concept of "software licensing" meant one didn't even really buy a pricey piece of software -- only the right to install the software on one box. Future upgrades to that software were assuredly not included in that software license.
"Want the new stuff? It'll cost you extra. Don't want the new stuff? Fine, but you know we're not supporting that piece of software anymore. If it breaks, it's your problem, not ours."
If all this wasn't hassle enough, try making two pieces of proprietary code talk to each other. It can be done, but only with expensive enterprise application integration tools. Enterprises of all stripes couldn't break out of the software prison. Locked into expensive licensing contracts, CIOs could only shrug and accept their lot.
Not anymore. It's time for a change.
By no means are there no strings attached to open source software. Certain conditions do have to be met, but it's free and you can alter the source code to match your business processes, your IT shop and your software environment.
This new status quo helps many enterprises, especially government. CIOs in the public sector don't work under the same competitive pressures facing private-sector CIOs. Good government is sharing. A particularly useful piece of software whipped up by a government agency to address a specific task will find use in lots of other governments.
All of a sudden, the little guy is in control.
To their credit, software companies are responding. More and more mainstream applications are being ported to Linux as more and more customers adopt the open source operating system. Previously xenophobic companies are allowing strangers to peek at their source code, even if it is only sections of source code.
Change isn't so scary now, is it?
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