Wednesday, 17 September 2014

gbgsoft and the Open Source Model

Over the span of 15 years, gbgsoft has replaced its dependence on proprietary software where ever possible. We use Libre Office, not Microsoft Office; Thunderbird, not Outlook; and Firefox, not IE. The tool kits we use to make programs are all open-source under various licenses. Most open-source these days is platform agnostic. It will run under Windows, Mac, Linux. In fact we choose our tools precisely because they will work in all three platforms.

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

-Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to Robert Hooke (Feb 5, 1676)

“Today, Newton would probably get sued for patent infringement.”

-Rick Gregory, Senior Programmer gbgsoft (Jul 15, 2006)

Why Open-Source?

For one thing it’s cheaper. That’s not to say that it’s devoid of cost. All projects encourage financial contributions and we make it a practice to support our key suppliers through regular donations. Each software project also has a community of supporters and consultants who provide support on a per hour basis. This means that high quality support is always available. And it is often these support dollars that pay for the primary development of the next generation of the software.

Each generation of open-source software follows a steady development and release plan,  publicly arrived at and adhered to. This is good news for the software’s users. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to know what the next versions are going to look like, and arbitrary changes by software producers have become the bane of most corporate IT departments. There have been upgrades of MS SQL versions that have brought entire enterprises to a screeching halt while the compatibility issues get sorted out. We work with PostgreSQL, the open-source database, and have undergone 3 major releases without incident.

Open-source software is higher quality. While proprietary software may gain a temporary advantage by having the “hot new” feature, it has a poor record in terms of security, preservation of privacy, and the fixing of known bugs. In the open-source world there is an overall transparency and visibility in code that proprietary companies lack. As the aphorism goes, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” A phrase the open-source community has wholeheartedly adopted.

Open-source is trustworthy. We now know that Microsoft delayed fixing bugs and broke its own encryption schemes, all in the service of making it easier for the government to spy on its citizens. Not only would no open-source project ever do this, but given that the software’s code is out there for all to inspect, any such activity would be exposed in an instant. It turns out that transparency is our best guarantee of privacy. A US Supreme Court judge famously wrote “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Open-source gives you choice. Can you name two closed-source Office Suites? Most people can’t. In the open-source world there’s Libre Office, Open Office, KOffice and Calligra Office, to name a few. Most of these are multi-platformed. Closed-source likes to dominate the market, saturating it with a single product,  limiting your choice, and stopping you from getting the tools you really need.

In the end, open-source encompasses a different algorithm for paying smart people to create interesting software that users actually need. This pushes forward innovation, reliability and quality for both the programmer and the user. IBM, the world’s oldest and perhaps most respected computer company, supports several open-source projects with commitments running to the tens of millions of dollars annually. They see these open-source projects as intimately tied up with and integral to their own success. Projects large and small are all being supported by individuals, organizations and companies whose economic interests have aligned in often synergistic ways with the open-source community. And unlike the closed-sourced world where marketing and distribution issues dominate the agenda, all this open-source money goes directly to the funding of developers and development.

Open-source means better software.

Written by: Rick Gregory and Andrew Gregory


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