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Open Source Software - Introduction
Open source software (OSS) is a type of computer software that is created under a very different licensing framework to mainstream proprietary software. This licensing regime offers unique freedoms of use and distribution.

The main advantages of open source software for businesses is the fact that they can download the software for free (or purchase a copy for a very reasonable price) and legally install it on as many computers as they wish - no licensing headaches.

Please Note! - As of the 1st of January 2005 software piracy is now a criminal offense carrying severe penalties.

Open source software is becoming increasingly accepted at all levels of the Information and Communication(s) Technology (ICT) industry as industrial grade, production ready software. Many large multinational corporations (Sun, IBM, Novell,...) are investing millions (and their future prosperity) in open source software.

Open source software offers you access to a vast array of free software of the highest quality, presenting immense value to businesses of all sizes. From the smallest of home offices through to the largest enterprises, there is something for everyone.

You will soon be able to download an extensive catalogue of Free and Open Source software
for business.

You may also find this site useful as it provides links to many open source applications which run under Microsoft Windows.

To get some idea as to the caliber of open source software that is on offer you may want to look at the following:

OpenOffice.org
A fully featured, mature, office suit. Roughly equivalent to Microsoft Office. [Available on: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X 10.2+ (needs X11 Window system for Mac)]

TurboCASH
You can download TurboCASH from here (click the green box and follow the links.) TurboCASH is a professional accounting package featuring everything one would need, and expect, for running an SME.
[Available on: Windows]

PDFCreator
Use PDFCreator to generate PDF documents directly from any Windows program. PDF (Portable Document Format) files ensure that the document will look as intended on all platforms, regardless of local
fonts or lack thereof. [Available on: Windows]

Gimp - Photo Image Software
An advanced image manipulation program. Roughly equivalent to: Adobe Photoshop & Corel Paint Shop. [Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux]

Abiword
A word processing package, compact (hence can be used on older computers), fast and reliable. I[Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux]

So What is Open Soure Software Anyway?
Proprietary software licenses mostly concentrate on what the user may or may not do with the software (often very restrictive). Open source licenses - on the other hand - focus on ensuring unconstrained redistribution and use. Hence open source rewards users with unprecedented freedoms of use and flexibility.

This unique licensing framework sets out various rights and obligations for developers, distributors and users of OSS.

Users of Open Source Software have the right to:

  • Use the software for any purpose;
  • Make unlimited number of copies, redistributing the software for any purpose.

Developers also have rights along with some obligations. Within certain limits (set to protect those freedoms) developers and distributors have the right to:

  • Access and modify the source code of the software for any purpose;
  • Distribute the modified/unmodified software under same license conditions.

You might ask "why is source code access important for my business?" In most circumstances, having full, unfettered access to a program's source code delivers no direct benefits to users of that program. But there are situations where this conveys a clear advantage. For example when you need to have that program modified to work seamlessly with your other business software. Or when additional functionality, specific to your business, needs to be integrated with your existing system. Here code access becomes a huge plus.

Being able to access and modify the source code means that, never again, will you be locked-in to one vendor. In most cases the creators of the software offer a variety of extra support and customization services. But now you have a choice. You have control!

In most circumstances however, the great business benefit of open source software is that it allows for the formation of a friction-free and highly competitive marketplace for products and services value-adds. For example, if you want to buy a Linux server product from a vendor, there are many to select from, offering differentiated technology, service and value.

The key point to understand is that most business software, word-processors, spreadsheets, accounting software, databases, servers and e-commerce solutions, are now commodities. And just like commoditised headache tablets, laundry cleaners and tissue paper, commoditised (i.e open source) software, can deliver the quality you expect at often great savings for your business.

Whether you wish to modify the software or just to enrich your understanding, you may find reading the Open Source Definition useful and interesting.

The Australian government recognises the merit of open source software, and has produced a guide to open source software for government agencies, many of the issues discussed are relevant to SMEs as well.

The Linux Operating System
Linux is the open source operating system. It is an alternative to Windows. As a first introduction to open source software we are promoting open source software for Windows. However the Linux operating system offers unique advantages in cost, security and choice. Therefore we feel Linux should be seriously considered as an alternative to Windows.

A well argued case for Linux is presented here

For those contemplating the move to Linux but wishing to remain within a Windows-like, easy to navigate, environment, we have prepared the short survey below.

Linux Short Overview

The following is a short survey of some Linux distributions (the different flavors of Linux released by vendors). Each, in it's own way, is suitable as an introduction/induction into Linux. Some are disseminated mainly as a free download (Ubuntu, Fedora...), though often they pop-up in magazines and pocket books (software & manual for a small outlay) at Newsagents. Even those vendors who concentrate on a commercial distribution, practically always offer an extensive free version as well.

Xandros
Xandros may represent the safest transition path, away from Windows; particularly for businesses. An intuitive graphical environment that works right out of the box and offers impressive compatibility with Microsoft Windows. The key advantage of Xandros is that it has integrated an emulation layer that allows users to continue to run most of their favorite Windows productivity applications. These select applications can run on the Deluxe and Business editions of Xandros. Users of the Standard and Open Circulation editions will need to purchase CrossOver software from Xandros separately. The product section is quite extensive. There is a free download which will give some idea as to the ease of transition from Windows.

Linspire
Targeted at the home user. Designed specifically for novices, to ease the transition from Windows. More intuitive to navigate around then most other Linux distributions, with lots of helpful guidance. Ultimately, considering the wide choice, it is a question of the right tool for the right task.

Fedora
Free, extensive and extremely popular. A standard setter, comes bundled with over a thousand applications. An all-rounder that is just as comfortable at home as in the office.

Ubuntu
Light, compact and increasingly popular. Unlikely to win any Linux desktop beauty competitions. You can just download a copy; or create an account with them and they will send you, totally free, an installation CD as well as a live CD (where the operating system and all application unpack directly from CD to memory, nothing installs on hard disk). With the live CD you can try Ubuntu for many hours without risk.

Novel Suse
Novell purchased SUSE (previously a Linux distribution based in Germany, very strong in Europe) nearly two years ago. My experience of older versions of SUSE was very positive. It is one of the best integrated distributions around. Deserves serious consideration. You can buy a boxed version which comes with support, a printed manual and some proprietary software. Novell markets it's own Linux Desktop which is receiving some very good reviews. A very extensive free version of SUSE is available here


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