By now, few people in the IT industry would dispute the benefits that the open source development model brings to businesses: flexibility and to some extent security, though it isn’t always the cheaper option if you do your TCO (total cost of ownership) sums.
The best open source software, notably the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stack, is commonly used by enterprises large and small, with many businesses running mission-critical applications such as sales transactions on Linux.
Yet, the merits of open source software should not be judged based on its “open source” label. While there are a handful of stars like the LAMP stack, there are thousands out there that will never gain the prominence of Linux and remain difficult to use and maintain.
I recently returned from a conference in Thailand, where a Thai academic proclaimed that Drupal, the open source content management system (CMS), is better than an alternative program developed by a third-party vendor. His reason: Drupal is open source.
Interestingly, he did not realize that the alternative software was actually built with Joomla, a competing open source CMS.
I am not disputing the strengths of Drupal. I am using it to run a community site for information professionals based in the United States. I love its modularity, flexibility and community of brilliant developers. It meets my needs because it is good at what it does, not because it is open source.
After all these years, I am still disturbed by the tendency of some quarters in the IT industry to be overzealous about open source software. The idea of a community developed software going up against products from greedy proprietary vendors is alluring, but let’s not forget that software is ultimately created to solve a problem.
Software development models are just the means to an end. As long as a problem can be resolved at a price you’re willing to pay, it really does not matter whether it’s open source or not. No self-respecting CIO would claim that open source software is good just because of its label.