July 3, 2010 Hatem Ben Yacoub

Open Source, Closed Source, We are not enemies

Every time I read a paper about open source I can feel how it’s trying hard to oppose to closed source or proprietary software. People in the closed source side seems to take things differently : ” we are doing business and we have to generate sales, closed or open doesn’t matter”.

I’m not going to defend open source, because there are enough arguments, technologies, and solutions that are very competitive and no closed technology can compete with them, however my only take is only for education.

Why most education systems “impose” the use of proprietary solutions ? I did not said that MS Office is bad, but do not force me to use this product. Why teaching kids how to use Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint… then Access for advanced users !

As a student I’ll have probably to write text, reports, table sheets, presentations … I don’t think this deserve to be taught separately and marked in the final exams ! People behind education programs are sometimes old fashion and love to stick to old stuff they learned, or just prefer the solution of facility if it’s about teaching few basic features documented and sponsored by the software provider.

The only good things is probably teaching Java as main programming language in most universities and colleges, and my apologies for those who are stick to Pascal “forever”. It’s okay to teach .NET but don’t stick to Visual Studio and Windows environment, there is Mono for people who don’t know it which provide an open source alternative.

In business, the choice of open or closed technology is not a matter of evangelism. I had the chance probably to work on a large open source solution using a closed source database for a government institution, and actually another new project which is based mainly on closed technology and integrated with the open source solution.

The core business solution is stable for one year already, and is mainly powered by open source technologies (operating systems, web server, web application), even the closed source database is running on an open source OS.

Getting the new project running with closed technology doesn’t much matter for me – even if I won’t recommend it if I was asked before. Making the business evolute is my only concern, and integration was really made easy between the two technologies.

My only worries today is about the capabilities of the closed technology to support a high number of users, and high traffic during peak times. In the same time I’m not much worried, because the core business is in the safe side, if the new implementation for a reason or another fail, only the “closed source” part of the system will fail and not the entire system.

Businesses and consultancies have the choice, most of the time, but they are mostly interested to work behind a giant company name to make sure that their solution will be accepted. By experience selling a custom made solution (powered by open source technologies) is much more profitable than reselling licenses of any available software, but the lack of experience and confidence doesn’t give much choices.

I think I have answered a key question here : small companies cannot compete with open source software, get behind a large company name and you will be able to sell any open source solution at a very competitive price compared to closed source one. Open and closed source are not enemies, it’s up to you to use one or the other, or make them both coexist.

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About the Author

Hatem Ben Yacoub Energy Engineer, Entrepreneur, ICT & eGov Consultant with over 15 years experience. Independent Open Data expert.

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