Open Source Software: A Platform for Innovation

From Unix to Linux, Freebsd and others, open source software has been playing major roles in computing and innovation. Can you imagine a world without Google, Facebook and Yahoo? I am sure you are trying to figure out how life was before these companies came into existence. Yes, life was somehow but we survived. The term “free software” was coined in 1983 by Richard Stallman. He was an MIT programmer that believed that software should be free.

Free does not mean it should come at zero Naira but free in the sense that anyone (and yes everyone) should be able to see the source code, improve on it and use it. Open source software was coined around 1998 in a session by Todd Anderson, Larry Augustin, Jon Hall, Sam Ockman, Christine Peterson, and Eric S. Raymond (according to Wikipedia). Open source software codes are made available for other programmers or software developers to work on. This thus creates a sense of high quality in the eyes of many.

Though most open source softwares are usually free, the vendors have devised various ways in which to make money principally through support and other forms. Today, the major platform open source software rides on is Linux. There are various flavours of Linux such as Redhat, Centos, Fedora core, Ubuntu, Gento and so on. Apart from these operating systems, we have open source applications that can be installed. One of the most popular is Mozilla browser. Mozilla for example has been at the fore front of innovation in delivering faster and amazing web experience through the browser.

Advantages and disadvantages

Some of the advantages of open source software are:

  • Software usually free
  • relatively stable, and
  • the performance is usually good.

The major drawback, however, is in support and they are relatively difficult to use for first timers but with time the experience gets better.

How can we use Open source software locally?

Like I said earlier on, most of the most-valuable companies we have today all use open source softwares. Google powers its search engine using Linux, with apache high performance web server and squid for web caching. Facebook, Yahoo and others are also not left out. The truth is that the services most of these companies offer today might not have been possible if not for availability of the open source software. Wait. Imagine that Facebook has to pay Oracle for database license that will house data of about 750million people. The cost is unimaginable. With MySQL, the company does not necessary have to pay but it can scale relatively faster.

Open source software is available in every sector – from CRM such as sugar CRM to ERP such as open bravo to web development platform such as WordPress, Drupal Joomla etc. Open software is becoming ubiquitous even in the enterprise. Take the case of Drupal. A lot of organizations are adopting it to build their intranet. As a result of this, the companies are lowering their cost and at the same time creating platform that enables faster innovation.

So, if we must jumpstart our software industry in Nigeria, we need to embrace open source software. This will allows for collaboration within the different industries. Innovation will be faster through collaboration, code peer review, faster time to market and subsequently intelligent workforce rather than going to other countries to buy expensive software. Also, jobs will be created locally. It will be easier to fix issues whenever there are problems as against having to rely on so called experts from abroad. The implication of this is that bulk of the over $1 billion dollars spent abroad annually at the expense of local industry could now be redirected to the local industry.

Where do we get open source software?

There are lot websites that host open source software projects but the three major ones are Sourceforge, Mercurial and GitHUB. Though the pioneer in this area is sourceforge, Github is the biggest and the best now. It is a place where a lot of companies share and host their codes. All you have to do is willingness to explore and you will be surprised at the amount of open source resources available to you online. You can go through any of these websites and check if there are some softwares that interest you.

In subsequent post, I will be sharing with you some of the softwares you can easily start and run with.