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How to plan for popularization of open source Software compared with the proprietary software?
HOW TO PLAN FOR POPULARIZATION OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE COMPARED WITHTHE PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE ?By Waruna Kodituwakku, University of ColomboINTRODUCTIONIn terms of the users’ rights, software solutions can be generally classified into several categories.Two of them are Open-source software (OSS) and Proprietary software (PS). PS is owned by anindividual or a company and users are given licenses to use it under certain conditions. Generally,the Source Code (SC) is not given to the user while modification, further distribution, or reverseengineering of PS by the user is restricted. Comparatively, OSS is available with the SC and the usergets the rights and opportunities to modify or customize it on his own.COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES OF OSSThe public perception is that PS is more dependable and easier to implement. But in reality the PSoften needs to be customized to suit the user’s requirements and such modifications would be doneonly by the proprietor’s staff or agents who may not be familiar with the local environment. (Thealternative would be that the user changes his systems and procedures to suit the PS.) Periodicupdates and trouble-shooting too would be handled similarly. All this adds to the total cost whichincludes annual subscription too. A greatest risk is that if the proprietor of the PS ceases operationsdue to bankruptcy or other reason, the user may become helpless and the PS becomes useless.Comparatively, the initial cost of the OSS would be free or low, but for the user it requires dedicatedand competent staff for implementation as well as for maintenance. The cost of this may appear tobe substantial at first sight, but it has to be set off against the benefits of avoiding the regular feespayable for PS. Other benefits of OSS are that it can be modified according to the user’srequirements and trouble-shooting is attended promptly by in-house staff.HOW TO POPULARIZE OPEN SOURCE SOFTWAREIf PS is being used today by a substantial number of organizations it is due to a historicalreason; when companies did not have sufficient IT expertise and were not confident aboutOSS they opted for PS. Therefore, the key to popularize the OSS lies in making both thepublic and private sectors aware of the comparative advantages of OSS. The private sector is 1
concerned about the efficiency and cost and hence it would be easier to convince them theadvantages of a tailor made OSS and its lesser costs. However, the public sector may givepriority to the reliability of the system to handle large volumes of transactions. The fact thatOSS is less risky in the long run and would not require changing of existing processes andprocedures should be stressed for them. One pre-requisite to implement OSS is thatorganizations should have the required IT expertise in-house.This popularization plan of OSS can have the following components: I. Organize exhibitions, discussions, or conduct special seminars to promote OSS. In this way the public will understand and learn the relative advantages of OSS. To this the services of experienced trainers and experts on OSS would be needed. In these sessions free distribution of popular OSS will be also attractive. II. Advertise OSS in mass media. Publish articles giving details of OSS’s relative merits in dedicated print media. (E.g. - FOSS User Magazine in Sri Lanka) And build instructive videos for public to learn and be confident by themselves about OSS. III. Undergraduates and Students are made aware of OSS. It would be an investment for the future. When students graduate and move in to companies, they will insist on open source products. And give free support services to users of OSS such as troubleshooting, re-install. IV. Use Blogging, Social Networks to promote about starting, tips and advantages about OSS. Benchmark OSS products with similar PS products and publish them. V. Introduce OSS solutions instead of PS to IT development projects of government (E.g. Nenasala Project in Sri Lanka). This will reduce cost of those projects and OSS will be popularized. 2
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