Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brazil transitions to Open Source software

Software licensing is expensive. I don't think that casual PC users, or casual MAC users realize the 'true' cost of the convenience of their preferred operating system. Most people go in they're favorite cookie-cutter store every few years and listen to pimpled, perfumed adolescent sales people ramble off rote technical details, and buy whatever computer's description features the most recognizable buzz-words. Since there is no itemization or cost break-down of components for the system beyond the monitor, printer, and nondescript box, very few users understand the true costs of their investment. Computers used to all come with backup disks, and each manual CLEARLY stated how important it was to not discard those disks- nobody reads the manual and eventually it comes back to haunt them. The 'sticker shock' is huge when they suddenly find themselves faced with purchasing a whole new software license or even the newest upgrade. The next thing you know their perfectly good computer is 'broken' and they're off to a different big-box-store filled with righteous indignation to purchase a 'better' system since the last one was a lemon in their eyes.

For anyone who's worked in a business, the 'true cost' of software is less of a surprise, but all the more painful. Business and Commercial software licenses are astronomical. The cost is justified by the assumption that the license will be used by a larger number of people, or used to make money, but it doesn't always make it any easier to shell out thousands of dollars for software. For a small business license, popular computer site sells Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 for $3500. That's just for the permission to use the software, not the software itself. You can't even get pricing for use in larger businesses or government offices without setting up an account with a Microsoft Rep.

The extreme costs can be hard for commercial interests to accept, but they can be crippling for non-profit and public enterprises. The public sector is under tight scrutiny and even tighter monetary stress- the costs of software licensing can eat away at funds that are needed elsewhere. It becomes even more of a hardship when you take into account that you're not looking just at the cost of an opperating system, but that every program you use requires an additional license. Music software, word processing software, media and image software, spreadsheet and database software, even email and messaging software. The true cost of running a Microsoft or Apple office can skyrocket.

Open source suddenly becomes a much more palatable option, especially now that many open products are being developed with shells that so closely resemble the commercial OS's people are familiar with. Not only that, Open Source products can be custom tailored to the needs of each business without violating the license. Companies and Organizations often employ their own IT staff, and open source software allows an opportunity for IT departments to have more control and involvement in their software. It seems that proper utilization of Open Source software can not only have monetary benefits, but also quality benefits for many public and private organization. Since this is an older story, I'd love to see how, 7 years later, this transition has gone and what sort of effect they are seeing.