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Www.AnalogyToCarsr1.1 - 08 Jul 2005 - 09:57 - GregRundletttopic end

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The notes below were prepared for a presentation to business owners explaining the concept of free software. Once the audience was comfortable with "What is Free Software?", some common myths (borrowed from Open Source Initiative) were debunked; explaining that Free Software is in fact more 'trustworthy and dependable' than proprietary software.

Introduction

Thank you for coming, and I'm delighted to be invited to speak to you today. Thank you to NHTI for hosting us, and Thank you to David Berube and Ted Roche for organizing tonight's event.

Why are we here tonight? Well, somebody mentioned free software and my motto is "If it's for free, it's for me" so I showed up.

No, seriously, I am here to tell you about how businesses can thrive and succeed using Free, and OpenSource software.

My name is Greg Rundlett. I am an advocate for FreeSoftware. I previously ran my own technology consulting company, working with both government and small business clients. With past experience as the CIO of a small company focussed on the field of entrepreneurship here in NH, and at other companies large and small, I presently work for a software company in Chelmsford, MA and live with my wife and two sons in Newburyport, MA.

My presentation was well-received last time I gave this talk, so they wanted to invite me back. I've been using Open Source and Free software since around 1994, and really became a convert around 2000. Since January 2001, I've been using free software exclusively for both business and personal computing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself, and this talk is not about me.

What Am I going to cover?

Let's address some of the following questions:
  1. What is Free Software?
  2. What are the risks and rewards for my business?
  3. How can I adopt it? (A point that I'll leave to Dave to elaborate on)

So, what is Free Software?

I suppose some of you know, or think you know the answer to this question. But, I'm going to re-educate you. Free Software is not about price. In fact I don't even like the name 'Free Software'; it conveys the wrong message. The free in Free software is about freedom, like freedom from slavery. Hmm, slavery, that's a heavy analogy, let's not go there too quickly.

Who has a car? Does your car come with 'idiot lights'? You know what that means? It's a derogatory term for an instrument panel warning light. They're called idiot lights because they're for idiots who don't know how to read or understand gauges. Actually they're not all bad. An idiot light won't give you any indication that a problem is developing until it happens. On the other hand, a light commands more immediate attention than a gauge. The "ultimate" instrumentation should include both: gauges to give an accurate indication of coolant temperature, oil pressure and charging current, and lights to catch the driver's attention when readings approach the "danger zone."

It used to be that all cars had gauges, and all drivers were expected to read and understand those gauges. Then the so-called idiot light was invented and pretty soon all sorts of people were allowed to drive. (By the way, most of those people now live in Boston) Before you knew it, the gauges were viewed as optional and included only in higher priced cars. Next, they invented computer systems for cars, with sensor chips and computer service codes.

Who doesn't hate the words "Check Engine"? You know what I'm talking about... the little orange light that give your face an alien glow while you drive at night. They give you no indication of what type of service is required or how severe it is. All you know is that the dealer is the only one who can make it go away, it's gonna cost a lot of money, and there is supposedly a computer that keeps the code secret.

That's Proprietary Technology at work. It's not rocket science, it's not new technology. Actually, it's old technology that used to be available to you, and has been taken away from you, given a high price tag by the ones who control it and makes you a slave to their revenue model and business plan.

I'm here to tell you about the alternative called Free Technology. The same way that little things made proprietary can cause major headaches, things made free can cause major relief.

Myths about Free Software

Myth #1: Nobody controls development.

Invariably, FLOSS products are tightly controlled either by a single individual or a small developer group.
Richard Stallman for the GNU project
Linus Torvalds plus 100 core devs for Linux Kernel
Meritocracy of the Apache Group
Larry Wall PERL

Myth #2: Anyone can change the software, which eventually becomes unstable.

Changing OSS for one's own use is always possible. However, adding such changes to the "official" distribution or convincing the user community to switch to a new distribution is quite a different proposition. With most OSS projects, only a few individuals have the necessary access rights to integrate code from third parties or to release new versions. Another element of quality control rests with the frequency of interim releases, which encourages parallel debugging within the user community. Major releases that are known to be stable are usually distinguished from newer, but less well-tested, versions.

Myth #3: When the lead developer leaves, the project dies.

The chance of a popular OSS product continuing to be supported after the departure of key individuals is much better than the survival of a proprietary product after the demise, acquisition or change in the product strategy of a commercial vendor. The availability of the source code ensures that there are no licensing restrictions for anyone wishing to pick up from where others have left off. The best-known example of this is Apache. The Apache group was formed by users of the popular NCSA Web server when the NCSA team left en masse to form Netscape (now part of AOL). The Apache Web server started life as a set of "patch" files for the NCSA Web server (hence its name - Apache stands for "A Patchy Server"). The speed of innovation within each OSS project depends on the developers reaching a critical mass, which allows the development process to benefit from "network effects."

Myth #4: There is no one to turn to for support.

An important consequence of unrestricted access to the source code and documentation is that it reduces significantly the barriers to entry for commercial organizations with a service and support model. Commercial support, including 24x7 telephone hot lines, is available for all the popular OSS products.

Myth #5: Open source is the same as Linux.

From looking at trade press coverage, it would seem that open source and Linux are synonymous. However, a lesser-known fact about Linux itself is that in a typical Linux distribution of 500MB, only about 2 percent belongs to the Linux OS. The rest is what makes Linux useful and is made up of hundreds of OSS system utilities, tools and applications contributed by equally numerous development teams. In fact, Linux owes its popularity to the availability of the OSS products that run on it.

Free Software, and Open Source software continue to make major strides on a daily basis within the realm of large corporate and government systems environements. One example: Several years ago, Disney adopted a Linux-based platform for all their animated film work (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/18/technology/18LINU.html?todaysheadlines). This is the main reason that I'm here to talk to you today: If the big companies are taking advantage of Free Software, I think it's high time for the little guy to get a place at the table.

Since there are now many good local consultants and organizations offering the highest quality planning, development, installation and support of technology systems that leverage all the benefits of Free and Open Source software, there is really nothing stopping you from bringing these benefits to your company. What else could you choose in a state who's motto is "Live Free or Die"?

Greg Rundlett

Free Software Evangelist www.freephile.com

other advocacy articles

Governments push open-source software http://news.com.com/2100-1001-272299.html?legacy=cnet - CNET.com

Linux or Windows: Which is more secure? http://www.osopinion.com/perl/story/18179.html - osOpinion.com

Open Source from Intel http://www.intel.com/software/products/opensource/index.htm - Intel Corporation

Linux at IBM http://www-1.ibm.com/linux/ - IBM

Customer Spotlight: VA Linux forges ahead in the open source market. http://www.oracle.com/oramag/oracle/01-may/index.html?o31valinux.html - Oracle Corporation

Compaq and Linux http://www.compaq.com/partners/linux/ - HP & Compaq

-- GregRundlett - 08 Jul 2005
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