Wellington-based web developer Chris Cormack is a living, breathing poster boy for the effectiveness of Linux-based operating systems in New Zealand.
Cormack, senior programmer at Katipo Communications, was at last month’s Linux Australia conference in Dunedin talking about the Koha Library System he wrote in 1999.
Cormack says Koha (the Maori word for gift) had grown hugely since it was written.
Katipo worked with the Horowhenua Library Trust to write the first version of Koha.
The most recent version has some new features, including series modules, barcode printing and RSS feeds.
Koha is used by public libraries, private collectors, university faculties, not-for-profit organisations, churches, schools and companies around the world.
Horowhenua Library Trust and Katipo Communications decided to jointly release Koha as free open source software under the General Public Licence (GPL) in 1999, before they started the project. According to the Katipo website, it was recommended to Horowhenua Library as a risk management strategy, to ensure that they could get support and development work done by suppliers other than Katipo, and because there wasn’t already an open source system available.
Since Katipo released Koha, other libraries have picked it up and paid Katipo and other developers to add features and improvements.
Koha runs Apache as its web server.
Cormack and his team have looked at some of the issues facing libraries in changing library systems, primarily the difficulty of getting access to their catalogue data, acquisitions and patron records for transfer.
He says they have tried to ameliorate those issues where possible. Clients can get their data out of Koha if they have to change systems later on. Koha can be changed or rewritten without breaking any agreements or licence restrictions. One of its key selling points is that individuals can customise Koha without being beholden to a particular vendor.
Cormack says about 9% of local businesses use Linux-based systems, according to a recent survey, although he believes that’s a conservative estimate.
“There’s always an extra machine or two in a back room.”
Linux has gained immeasurably in interest and credibility in recent years, he says.
“You don’t get laughed out of the building now when you respond to an RFP [request for proposal] and say ‘we run it on a Linux server.’”
“In the olden days if you didn’t basically quote a Microsoft solution or a Solaris solution, you weren’t taken seriously. But now, it’s a snowball effect: the more people that mention it the more legitimate it becomes.”
Cormack says small organisations have always preferred Linux-based systems because they really couldn’t afford the big systems.
ISPs have also backed it because the internet is built on open standards.
The irony of this is not lost on Cormack.
“This proprietary thing isn’t the way it was always done. It started this way and then someone captured it and figured ‘I can make a lot of money with this. Now it’s gone back to the way it used to be.”