Today is Independence Day here in the United States - a day of reflection and fireworks. It's the day that everyone here but I broke free of Britain to "live free or die." (I still work for a UK-based company, so I'm John Powell's indentured servant. :-) In 10 days, we'll also celebrate France's Bastille Day (when the cry of "Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!" echoed beyond La Belle France, shown in this wonderful Delacroix painting.)
So it seems appropriate to reflect on how open source provides basic freedoms to IT departments and developers worldwide. I experienced this firsthand this morning on conference call with my team and a partner company, both in Europe. (No, they didn't seem to care that it was a US holiday.) A call that would have taken days or months to determine licensing rights to our software took...10 minutes. Frankly, had Alfresco not undergone some licensing changes in the past the call never even would have happened.
Open source licensing enables companies to collaborate without involving attorneys, business development teams, etc. You grok the license, you take the code, you abide by the license. That's it. Highly efficient.
And free. Free as in freedom. Freedom that makes a big difference to end customers and to partners alike.
This message strikes home particularly well in the public sector, e.g., government. Consider this quote from a recent paper entitled "Open-Source Collaboration in the Public Sector: The Need for Leadership and Value":
The "open-source" movement in information technology is largely based on the innovative licensing schemes that encourage collaboration and sharing and promise reduced cost of ownership, customizable software and the ability to extract data in a usable format. Government organizations are becoming increasingly intolerant of the forced migrations (upgrades) and closed data standards (or incompatible data standards) that typically come with the use of proprietary software. To combat the problems of interoperability and cost, governments around the globe are beginning to consider, and in some cases, even require the use of open-source software.
Why? Because of freedom. Savio rightly challenges the notion that open source automatically means open standards, and suggests that many that are looking for open source are really seeking open standards. Unfortunately for the argument, open standards do tend to follow open source and, regardless, any open source software is almost de facto open standards, as well, because even where it's not a standard (in terms of broad adoption), it's still open (so, a standard in terms of anyone being able to use it and deploy it without lock-in).
Governments and other organizations are tired of waiting for vendors to finish their parlor games around standards, and have discovered that open source is a great shortcut to largely the same effect: freedom.
And so, on this day when the United States reflects on the costs and benefits of its freedoms, I invite you to do the same as regards the code you buy and deploy. You can choose to use open source software and thereby maintain your freedom to make other choices. Or you can lock yourself into a vendor. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. The problem is, you don't get to choose which it is. The vendor does.