Is it safe to use? How secured is it? Are there quality softwares?
These are some of the common questions asked by small scale business owners when they are faced with decisions to adopt open source solutions that could make their day-to-day operations more efficient. For many entrepreneurs without any IT background (but a sharp business sense), these are brilliant and relevant questions. The answers to these questions may help reduce the apprehension of a significant number of small scale business owners. My interactions have shown that a lot of these businesses are looking to grow, enhance their productivity, and most importantly, save costs.
A significant number of businesses in the developing world, are of a mom-and-pop business nature. Based on my recent interactions with these small scale business owners, I see widespread misconceptions pertaining to open source software. In order for small scale businesses to adopt open source solutions, it is vital to address these misconceptions.
Is Open Source Software Really Safe?
The question arises from the basic process that is followed to write code using open source way. If any hacker can read your code, then why can’t they use the knowledge to their personal benefit? Most of those sorts of malicious attempts fail because there are a lot of committed people looking over the source code, finding problems, and fixing them. More eyes tame bugs quickly. And security by obscurity is no security at all. What strikes me at this point of time are the words of security expert Bruce Schneier, “Public security is always more secure than proprietary security. For us, open source isn’t just a business model; it’s smart engineering practice.”
Developing code in an open source fashion is an expression of a technique. Software, in our world, should be treated as a service which can be customized based on the specific needs of a user, rather than merely as a product.
I know a lot of people involved at different levels of open source projects. All of them are driven by their commitment to reach technical and professional excellence, and to add to the existing body of technology knowledge. The entire ecosystem of open source is built on that commitment. The Linux operating system, for example, with its proven track record of stability and security, forms the backbone of complex infrastructures and data centers world over. The same benefits that help Linux and other open source tools succeed at the enterprise level can be reaped by small businesses, too.
A couple of months back, I read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. An otherwise helpful and insightful book, the author seems to host a thought process that open source is contrary to the developers’ right to make a profit. A lot of people who think that way do not see the forest for the trees. They see free software, they see Linux, but they miss the multi-billion dollar ecosystem that surrounds open source. Its true that Brian Behlendorf, the person who orchestrated Apache web server, did not make a dime off it, but the immense value that this server has added to the economy and the legions of small to medium size businesses that use this infrastructure is an important contribution. Free software developed by a community is not tantamount to insecurity.
Are there quality Open Source alternatives available?
Gone are the days when open source was produced only by the engineers, for the engineers. From word processing to calendar applications to servers and to setting up telephone communication networks, small businesses can benefit hugely from open source solutions. Let us take the example of word processing, an activity that almost all small businesses, irrespective of their field, carry out.
Microsoft Word is the premium software in the area but it is cluttered with features that a lot of small businesses won’t ever use. The bloating of Microsoft Word has cost its simplicity. There are easy to use, simple, free, and open source word processors available out their. A few of these that I have been using (and suggesting to small businesses) as an alternative to Microsoft Word are:
Apache Open Office: This software primarily consists of six tools for managing office tasks, namely: Writer as a word processor, Calc as a spreadsheet tool, Impress for multimedia presentations, Draw for diagrams and 3D applications, Base as a database tool, and Math for creating mathematical equations.
AbiWord: Developed in 1998 with the help of gtkmm, this open source word processor includes both simple word processing features to sophisticated features like multiple views, page columns, and grammar checking.
LibreOffice : This is my favorite and always at the top of my recommendation list for anyone looking for a free and efficient word processing suite. Although the features are similiar to those of ApacheOpen Office, LibreOffice is better when it comes to community support.
There are dozens of other excellent alternative solutions to proprietary software and thousands of open source projects that can serve small businesses. It can sometimes be difficult to select the software which best matches specific needs, but there are plenty of people globally willing to help you make those decisions and help take small businesses down the path to an open and productive future.