There are several questions, which have been puzzling me since July 1997. That was the month I started using OSS (Open Source Software) and I have to thank Apple for pushing me in that direction. Apple was not making stable operating system software then. So, along with several thousands of the faithful, I jumped ship. Didn't move to the evil empire - having already found that by avoiding Microsoft products you did not create too many problems for yourself! Coming from the Macintosh world and being very GUI-dependent what other choice was there? After a couple of days on the Web I had learnt all that I needed to know. You could have your GUI and a Photoshop clone for free (or the cost of a CD-ROM).
Various reasons are advanced to discourage one from taking the path to OSS however:
"It is too hard to install and set up". There are several colourful expressions in the English language in response to such a claim. Any person who can run a Microsoft NT/IIS server is much more capable of running an OSS file and/or web server. The only application that is difficult to set up and administer is sendmail and even that a militant non geek managed to do with documentation found on the WWW. All system administration is done through a GUI or in a "standard" web browser. Server administration can be done from any Macintosh or Windows machine on the LAN should the need arise. Changing network settings does not require inserting a CD-ROM and rebooting every five minutes, for example. One does wonder where all this rubbish about hard to install' came from in the first place. Wasn't that part of the Microsoft propaganda when they launched Windows NT? You really believed that?
"But we need a standard" one may complain. Standards are fine when they do not lead to abuse and monopolies. Standards are fine while they are "real" standards that do not change every six months to please marketing departments. Our in house file server runs AppleShare and SMB for Windows. Our test web server is FrontPage extension capable AND CGI ready for about six different scripting and programming languages. The workstation can read Macintosh and Windows disks. We have no problems with files that come from other operating systems. Now what was that about standards again?
"OSS is not ready for the desktop and the end user". Well sorry! Wrong again! There are free "for non commercial use" office suites. Not caring much for suites, we have opted for individual applications. "There are no serious applications for OSS";. Where have you been these last six months? Netscape Communicator, WordPerfect 8, Wingz 3 are the tip of an iceberg. Major database systems all have OSS versions - most with free licences for non-commercial use. Of course the web browser is the preferred interface for interacting with the database. That is what a "standard" really is: data accessible from machines running different operating system software. Now can someone please explain how higher education drifted into the arms of expensive, proprietary and bug ridden commercial software? Because it was easier to use?
Cartoon by Paul Mounter. Copyright IT Week. We are grateful to IT Week for permission to use this cartoon.
The writing is on the wall for general purpose commercial operating systems. The danger is OSS with a quality/cost ratio that cannot be beat. Apple may just scrape through with MacOS X - a UNIX kernel with a powerful GUI. Windows 2000 may-well become available within the first couple of years of the new century. If it has as many bugs and is as stable as its predecessors, it will take a lot of marketing clout to make people buy it. This is not to mention the cost of the "upgrade"... For server software the battle is already over. OSS won! Don't believe me? Check the stats at Netcraft!
I cannot say that I have not looked back - one does not simply trash 10 years of experience in graphics software. Nowadays my Macintosh usage is limited to about twice a week at the office and I no longer own one. Our money will stay on OSS, but we will not hesitate a second to switch again if something else comes along which better serves our needs. Are you listening Apple?
Our current software list includes:
Tony Grant, Internet/Intranet consultant
4 rue d'Alger 44100
Tony Grant is an Internet/Intranet consultant for Anima Productions. He also teaches Internet related subjects part time at various institutions in Nantes.