New Zealand organisations may have been somewhat slow to embrace open source, it isn’t because they fail to appreciate it.
“Proprietary software can hide lots of bad things. Microsoft Windows … need I say more?”
Neil James is information technology strategy and policy consultant, and executive officer of the New Zealand vice-chancellors’ standing committee on information technology at the University of Otago. He stresses that he’s no open source expert, but says there’s no doubt that the open source approach can lead to better code. And philosophically, he approves of the open source approach, too. “What’s the reason for hiding code? Open standard is probably a better focus as we move forward than the idea that somehow several thousand people working on their own will always produce a good result.”
He notes that a growing amount of software used in our infrastructures is open source or free.
“I believe that, over time, open source software may make up more and more of the underlying software in systems we use. I can foresee the day when word processors and spreadsheets and so on are provided free — just part of the infrastructure.”
The misinformation around OS development, about which many developers complain, stems mainly from a lack of technical knowledge in the user community, James thinks.
“Open source is not understood. Those not involved have little idea of what it really means. Many IT professionals have never been involved in coding, and why would the user community have any idea of what it’s really about?”
But Steve Lewin, director of intellectual property at Quantel Business Science, which develops systems to help companies measure their continuous improvement processes, spends several hours every week researching open source developments and says there’s misinformation about everything. He doesn’t think it’s any worse in open source than it is in any other area of technology.
“You get the scaremongers who don’t have a clue what’s going on, but it isn’t hard to find out what is actually happening. The beauty of open source, ultimately, is that you can dive in and look at the code itself.”
Quantel has developed its systems on Microsoft’s .Net platform, but only after evaluating both proprietary and open source environments.
“From our client base point of view, open source didn’t make sense,” says Lewin. However, he predicts Quantel will revisit that decision as more customers move their business-critical applications to open source. “It’s definitely an option that I’m keeping there on the back-burner. One of our clients is a government department that’s now almost entirely open source.”