Since its advent, Open Source Software or OSS has grown significantly over the years. This is due in part to the advances made in its development. A few of these advances include: “user-friendliness”, functional capabilities, and their low cost. But despite these achievements, OSS has not achieved the type of pervasive adoption that we have envisaged. And this, in my opinion, is a result of a variety of reasons in different regions. In Liberia for example, I have come to learn of two cardinal reasons: lack of OSS knowledge and the unwillingness by some individuals to ignore common myth held against OSS.
The lack of OSS knowledge in Liberia echoes one thing: Our unarticulated unwillingness to remove ourselves from that which we are comfortable with –proprietary software. Across the Liberian ICT spectrum, Open Source Software is a mundane topic. Yet, it is rare to see ICT professionals in Liberia proffer Open Source Software solutions, even though their ICT budgets face serious strangulations. One can inarguably surmise therefore, that the option for perfunctory proprietary solutions is sought only because it aligns with the skills of their choosers. But how does this benefit a struggling organization?
As ICT professionals, our job is to find the right solutions and align them with our employers’ strategic goals, at the lowest cost, to achieve competitive advantage and increase profit. And if this requires the integration of Open Source Software solutions, then we must orientate ourselves toward that paradigm. As a nation whose ICT sector is resource-challenged, it is imperative that every ICT professional and those aspiring to work in ICT gain better insight of OSS in order to promote innovation. OSS allows innovation and creativity because everyone has access to the source code. With this access, you can learn, and create a solution of your own.
The second reason for the slow penetration of open source software in Liberia relates to the alarming myths that are being spread about Open Source Software. On several occasions, I have listened to some ICT managers explain their refusal to adopt Open Source Software. Many of these managers erroneously claim that the “openness” (access to the source code) of open source software makes it more vulnerable to exploitation/penetration. In my opinion, this perception demonstrates a shocking misunderstanding of software security paradigm as well as the inner workings of Open Source Software. So, today, once again I will attempt to dispel FOUR myths about Open Source Software that are being espoused across the Liberian spectrum. Please read on:
1. Open Source Software is not secure because the source code is available to anyone: A lot of people think that when something is kept a secret, private or locked that it is secure. Secrecy does not necessarily mean security. Proprietary software tend to hide their source code yet they are still vulnerable to malware. Is that security?. We have heard on several occasions of malware and intrusion attacks on proprietary software from companies like Microsoft Corporation. Frankly, I believe that there are probably more malware for Microsoft Windows than there are for Macintosh or Linux.
2. Open Source Software is unreliable: If reliability is a problem for open source software then I can argue that the Internet is unreliable as well. This assertion is based on the fact that the Internet infrastructure relies heavily on Open Source software. Every single Internet address–both web and email–depends on the Domain Name System, or DNS. Additionally, BIND which is core to DNS, is an open source program that was originally developed at the University of California, Berkeley. BIND is currently being maintained by its principal developer as an independent free software project under the auspices of a group called the Internet Software Consortium.
Moreover, the Linux operating system is an open-source software which is widely used by large companies and runs several servers on the Internet. SENDMAIL is an open source mail transport server that serves a significant percentage of emails sent over the Internet. The Apache web server is an open source web server that hosts more than 60% of the world’s web sites. The TCP/IP protocol stacks used in most commercial Internet software are based on the code originally written as part of the Berkeley networking package. PHP(server-side scripting language) and MySQL(database server) are all open source products that are used to run the Internet. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is the body that creates and governs the Internet standards, utilizing approaches that parallel those used in the open source community. These are just a few examples of mission-critical open source software.
3. Open Source Software is only for hackers and computer programmers: Initially, open source was pretty much a “geek”, hacker, or programmer’s initiative. However, so much progress has been made that it is now a household computing tool. Ubuntu Linux, which is probably the most popular distribution of Linux comes pre-installed on Dell personal computers and are used in schools, businesses, and governments.
4. Open Source Software is given out freely so a person cannot profit from it: Individuals in the business sector would like to make this argument. The philosophy behind Open Source is “freedom”; freedom to access, tweak, or tinker with the source code of a software built on open source standards. It means that I can take the kernel of Linux and write a “CUSTOMIZED” operating system.
Finally, OSS provides an ICT resource-challenged environment the opportunity to be innovative and creative. Clearly, Liberia is a nation that lacks ICT resources (skills, infrastructure, etc) which are needed to provide the innovation and creativity that can reap benefits. With a robust open source software initiative that provides adequate knowledge of how it benefits us as a people, we will be able to enjoy the transformative power of modern technologies.