While Linux has been the flag-bearer of Open Source revolution, Open Source is much more than Linux. In the past few years, Open Source has come into its own with many quality software products, all available at zero cost. Desktop environments like KDE and Gnome, Browsers like Mozilla and Galeon, email applications like Evolution, instant messenger applications like Gaim and desktop applications through OpenOffice can now all combine together to provide a viable alternative even on the desktop.
On the server side, Apache as the web server, JBoss as the application server, PostgreSQL as the database and Sendmail as the mailing application offer the building blocks needed to build a robust operating platform.
For many, open source is about freedom from Microsoft. For others, open source is about saving money. Of course, it is also said that, Linux is free only if your time is worthless. But the free formula makes a lot of sense in the developing markets of the world, where the only alternative to an expensive Microsoft Windows-Office combination would have been to use a pirated copy. Now, they can use Linux and OpenOffice, being compatible with the proprietary Windows-world file formats (DOC, XLS and PPT) at the same time.
The real opportunity for Open Source is in countries like India and China. What Open Source can do is to bring down the cost of computing be factor of 10, thus making it accessible to a much larger set of people. So far, much of the Open Source development has been done by software engineers from the developed countries (primarily, US and Europe). This is where Indians need to take the lead and contribute to the movement.
Open Source does not mean free. Free does not benefit anyone. After all, even the developers have to make a living, and their companies have to make profits. Open Source is about an alternative, it is about freedom. A recent report by Gartner estimates that 1 billion more PCs will be sold in the next 6-7 years (the 1 billionth PC was sold in April this year). The next 500 million users who will come from the worlds emerging markets are the opportunity for Open Source software. An integrated collection of software applications needs to be made available at a low, affordable cost to double the base of computer users worldwide.
What Open Source makes achievable is the dream of a USD 100 computer (more about this later in the series), with software and Internet connectivity for no more than USD 10 per month. This computer-Internet combination can be, for the worlds emerging markets, the bridge to a new future. Open Source is, then, the set of pillars and arches that support the bridge.
Mathew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat, the most well-known Linux company, puts it best (as quoted in Forbes): “Linux is open and transparent, which is what software developers have always wanted. I believe that we can change the face of the software industry and deliver social value to the industry Linux can free corporations, third-world nations and poor domestic communities from the tyranny of high prices and badly written software.”
Tomorrow: Outsourcing: Partnering for Profit