Harsh economic times have forced upon us a "bare bones" approach to many of the decisions that affect our livelihood and endeavors. As a technology advocate, I oftentimes find myself cringing when I hear decision makers turning a deaf ear to one of the best sides of computer technology, the abundant and crystalline fountain of Open Source Software. For the uninitiated, software programs are computer code that has been compiled from human-readable source code into binary code, the language computers understand. Companies in the business of selling software (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe, etc) remove the readable source code from their packaging, and sell only the compiled application, forcing a culture of binary consumers with no access to the source. So what distinguishes Open Source from Proprietary Software is that for every binary Open Source application, the source code is also available for study and, if needed, improvement and modification. What this means in the real world is that for every store product, say MS Office or Photoshop, there is an Open Source (and free) counterpart. In the case of Office it is OpenOffice, an application that comes with a license that even allows you to share it legally. For Photoshop enthusiasts, GIMP is free. See OSLIVING.COM for many other examples.
So in these worst of times, we see companies and organizations cutting back and laying off workers whose skills could actually save them thousands of dollars. Instead of directing their ever shrinking funds into viable alternatives, I see illogical spending on the old mantra "buy and do whatever our time-proven vendors tell us". I see a misguided bare-bone mentality prevailing. So instead of greener monitors and smaller, more energy efficient computers run by employees who understand alternative open source operating systems, decisions are still made to cyclically spend large amounts of money for licenses and upgrades. Some smart organizations are, however, looking at the real basics of computer technology, and using free and Open Source Linux as their desktop and server operating system. They have found that encouraging their employees to use Open Source Software is a good business practice . Companies such as Conoco, CISCO, Google, Mobil, Panasonic, Shell, Toyota USA and organizations like the Government of Mexico City, the US Army and the US Postal Service have embraced Linux. The truth of the matter is that the Internet and other "backbone" network systems run overwhelmingly on Linux servers. The emergence of Linux in the desktop, however, has been slower. With no cost or licensing fees to pay, the savings can add up very quickly and very dramatically. The customers, young minds in the case of schools, have no problem making the adjustments to Linux - Seems like only decision makers who fear change and questions are opposed to the inevitable - the Open Source sharing of computer technology resources for the common good.
When "tightening our belts" becomes necessary due to budget cuts, it is heartening to know that there are viable options to expensive software technology.