Definition: It is a software whose source code is available without restriction for users to look at and enhanced though public collaboration and therefore it is available free of charge. This type of software's source code is freely distributed and available to the general public. However "free" does not mean that there are no financial costs, it is free in the sense that users can modify copy and distribute the source code without paying the developer royalties. Generally this is software that allows anyone to create modifications of the software, part it to new operating systems and processor architectures, share it with others or market it.
Moreover Open source software is by definition, not restricted to any specific operating system or hardware technology, although most open source software is currently based on Linux or UNIX operating system.
The range of open- source software extends from operating system (various Linux distributions) to desk top productivity suites (e.g. open office), web browsers (e.g. Mozilla Firefox) and games.
"Open source software, is software provided with a source code, no license is needed, the user modifies it to suit his or her needs" said Mr. Teddy Astrat, senior Network Engineer at Africa Online Swaziland. He also stated that Open source is definitely one place where you will be respected for your intelligence and ability, not how expensive your clothes are or how much you paid for your haircut, nobody cares what you look like, what matters is how good your ideas are.
The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software. This free software movement was launched in 1983. In 1998 a group of individuals advocated that the term free software should be replaced by open source software as an expression which is less ambiguous and more comfortable for the corporate world.
The Open source label came out of strategy session held in Palo Alto in reaction to Netscape's January 1998 announcement of a source code release for Navigator (as Mozilla). A group of individuals at the session included Todd Anderson, Larry Augustin, John Hall, Sam Ockman Christine Peterson and Eric S Raymond . They used the opportunity before the release of Navigator's source code to clarify a potential confusion caused by the ambiguity of the word "free". However many people claimed that the birth of the internet since 1969 started the open source movement, whilst others did not distinguish between open source and free software movements.
The Free Software Foundation started in 1985 and intended the word "free" to mean free speech. The open source initiative was formed in February 1998.
It was until the 1990's and the commercialization of the Internet that open source technology became main stream. The technology was further pushed into the limelight as internet access became more affordable for households and increasingly available for free at many schools and libraries. As consumer tech knowledge increases, open source code will likely continue to be a popular option for programmers.
How the concept works
Open source software includes free applications released under special licensing terms where the core coding is viewable and can be edited to suit the needs of the user. Basically, an author or company creates an application then releases it for the specific distribution, sometimes in coordinated projects where it can be further developed by a community of programmers, working individually or in terms, to further refine the product.
If the software package, for example, Ubuntu OS, has defects which can cause incorrect operation, data loss or sudden failures, each of these kinds of bugs is usually addressed with speedy fixes whenever possible and open source advocates will claim very rapid time to fix. It is a process which is undoubtedly assisted by the availability of the source code.
In addition, able developers who discover a bug will commonly fix it and then report it to the maintainers as well as issuing an updated version of the software then choose whether to use the unofficial fix or wait for an official version. This mechanism clearly works well in practice.
"Open source community attracts very bright, very motivated developers who although frequently unpaid are often much disciplined. They are amongst the most experienced in the industry". All users of open source products have access to the source code and debugging tools, and hence suggest both bug fixes and enhancements as actual changes to the source code.
Brief analysis of a company that uses open source software
Africa on line
A Swazi based company that provides internet connectivity and services to individuals and organizations. For a monthly fee, they provide internet users with a connection to their site. In addition, they provide software packages, email accounts and Website development. Their main competitor is Real Image Internet. In addition they use open source software in most of their services. "80% of our applications are run on open source software" said Teddy. They use Microsoft windows only in the Finance department (Pastel software) as well as the Primary Domain Controller (PDC and BDC) for their office.
How they use open source
According to Teddy, they use DNS (domain name server) which is a version of Linux for mail hosting. Under mail hosting they use POP (Post Office Protocol), which is in turn used for storing e-mails by using software called Q-mail. Pure message is also used for filtering mail in their open source based SMTP (Simple Mail Transport protocol) severs which use also postfix as mail transfer urgent.
At Africa on line they also use open source software for web hosting. For DNS, they use BIND and this is used for resolving network addresses and host names. For Database hosting MySQL is used and for firewall they use IPTABLES. They also use the AAA (Authentification, Authorization, and Accounting) server, where they use software called RADIUS (remote authentification dial-in service). This type of software is used for controlling access to computer resources, enforcing policies, auditing usage, and providing the information necessary to bill for services.
Using this type of software enable them to have over 3 000 internet service subscribers and about 10 000 emails per day (of course, most of it spam), which is very little compared to other countries where the population size is high.
Drawbacks of using Open Source Software
There is a flip side to everything, and in the case of Open source software it all boils down to the old saying of "there is no such thing as a free lunch". Most of the drawbacks only apply if you are not somewhat code - savvy and willing to get your hands dirty, according to our research.
It is not always easy to get open source software to work with other applications. Patrick from Africa Online said when running Linux software, one has to use Linux open source operating system. This means that, one must have separate PC systems to run different open source software or change the operating system.
Lack of support
"In Swaziland few companies or people use open source due to lack of technical knowledge and because of that should the system develop problems, one has to struggle to get local experts to attend to the problem" says Mr. Patrick Nkambule, Technical and Country Manager at Africa Online Swaziland. "It is your own baby to nurse" he added, meaning one must learn things on their own
Lack of manual documentation
Documentation serves mainly in installing and maintaining the application, gives reference on the functionality of the software and helps incase of program anomalies. It was formulated by different individuals and hence there is no manual.
Even if there is a comprehensive documentation available, it's usually full of technical terms requiring an excessive knowledge on the domain, programming languages, system administration etc. "Documentation is usually written in stilted and charming language which has no clear cut standards hence it is tricky", complained a user of open source software in Swaziland.
Dependent on good internet connection
They use the internet to accommodate updates and thus it increases the costs of using Open source software. Patrick said this is like a chain if one player has some problems, then the systems will go down, thus affecting those who use them as a getaway. Africa on line uses SPTC as traffic for their applications. Therefore if their speed is slow it means internet connection will be slow for both companies. It is very expensive" he said. The more you buy the more efficient the internet connection so in Swaziland internet connection is very expensive because there are have less users of the internet.
The internet also brought in other kinds of 'evil' so we have very intelligent hackers who tap into other's systems, so as a user, one has to be diligent and come up with security measures to avoid such security breaches since information lost cannot be regained.
Less user- friendly
Technically inclined individuals are the main users of open source software, as it needs some level of technical intellect. It is not plug_and_play, and that is one reason it is predominantly being used by I.T professionals other than end users.
Project can die
Just as with commercial applications, some open source projects stall and die. Programmers just lose interest with being involved or they become fraught with infighting; arresting further development, "you may be left with an application that is full of security bug, with no one to fix them, or if you can get them fixed, it will usually require paying someone to do it" says Patrick from Africa Online.
He further said; if you are someone who needs phone support or personalized email support, forget using open source software. Unless you prepared to pay extra telephone, electricity and internet bills which might be more costly than commercial software.
- Laudon and Laudon (2007), "management information system: managing the digital firm".
- Httpwww. Opensource.org/advocacy/fag.html the original
- Testimonial: Mr. Teddy (Africa on line) Cell: 00268 661 2160. Mr. Patrick (Africa on line) Cell: 00268 602 4703