Tech Memo: Open Sesame
Demystifying open-source software, a useful tool often surrounded by myths.
Open-source software can be an effective technology solution for the intrepid IT professional in search of a customizable product. This type of software, which allows users to modify its source code free of charge, can be used to manage websites, email, desktop productivity—you name it. And because it’s less structured than many proprietary or commercial software programs, open source provides IT professionals with a chance to play and experiment. “It’s very much an adventure,” says Moira Edwards, CAE, president, Ellipsis Partners.
As with many adventures, though, walking into open-source territory can be a bit like walking into the land of the unknown. Here, Edwards and Renato Cruz Sogueco, chief information officer at the Society of American Florists, dispel three common myths about this type of technology:
Open source is free. Yes, open source may be free to acquire, but there are costs in implementing it.
“It’s not free in the sense of do you have the personnel or do you have the know-how to really implement the software,” Sogueco says. There’s a learning curve, and that’s not free.”
The cost of open source decreases once you’ve developed staff know-how.
There’s no support. You can find support out there, Sogueco says. People may believe that “it’s just a bunch of weird old men with beards in basements that have contributed to the software, but that’s all a myth,” he adds. “These are highly skilled professionals who have contributed to the community, and they have contributed to the community in terms of support as well.”
As for an association management system built on Microsoft CRM, there’s an industry that builds up around providing the technology to people who do not have the know-how or support to implement it themselves or who need help getting started, Edwards says.
Open source is less secure. Before any company or individual releases an open-source product, it goes through a rigorous quality-control process, Sogueco says. “If you have an entire community just looking for holes, you’re going to find them, and you’re going to patch them right away.”
Edwards says open-source testing is a kind of crowdsourced method of vetting software, “which by its very volume and by the experience of the people doing it, it’s actually as rigorous if not more rigorous” than proprietary software testing.
Sogueco and Edwards will lead the session “Almost Handmade: Creating Technology Solutions From Scratch” at the 2013 ASAE Technology Conference & Expo, December 4–5. For more information, visit www.asaecenter.org/technologyconference.
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