The software industry is built upon making enormous products that attempt to do everything for everybody, and charging a lot of money for it. This may be fine for large corporations who have deep enough pockets, but what about the rest of us?
It turns out that intelligent programmers around the world have the same needs for managing email, tracking documents, storing files centrally, and running web servers as the rest of us. And in many countries, economics put most of the software products financially out of reach.
So what did they do? They collaborated over the Internet to write new versions of old software to do what they needed it to do. This software has become complete enough to do just about everything you can think of, in some cases better than the proprietary software that the software industry charges thousands of dollars for. And, it's all available free of charge.
The list of free software grows longer every day. Already most of the web servers in the world run on free software. There's free software for email, graphics manipulation, authentication and encryption, remote access, customer resource management (CRM), content management, accounting, and even entire office suites.
The software industry wants you to believe that Open Source Software is poorly supported, poorly documented, doesn't work well together, and isn't widely accepted. It does have its drawbacks:
- It's generally on the trailing edge of the technology curve. Proprietary software forges new features that take a couple years to filter down to free software. The flip side of this is that it's tested, reliable, and stable.
- It's harder to get working with some hardware. Usually it works well with older hardware, and less well with new.
- Programs that run on the desktop have inconsistant behavior. Features like drag-and-drop rarely work, and sometimes you can't even cut & paste between programs.
- Many specific software packages are simply not available for Open Source operating systems, or if they are available, they don't have the latest features, they're more expensive, or they're not supported by the company.
So why would you want to use Open Source software?
- It can save you thousands of dollars of licensing costs.
- It's generally more stable, causing fewer crashes and lost data.
- It's supported by many volunteers worldwide who are happy to help you get the software working, without charging you, if you make some valid attempt to fix the problems first.
- No nasty letters from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) demanding payment for unlicensed software.
- You don't have to replace your existing software to extend your computing systems with open source.