Open source is not one size fits all

Don't use software just because of its license

A new whitepaper from travel firm Amadeus IT Group highlights open source software and how too much marketing can be a bad thing.

The paper, authored by former UK policy advisor Jim Norton, is a very pro-open source document that highlights the usual benefits of open source software: it's easy to get, it's innovative, and it can "support a wide range of heterogeneous systems."

There's more of this in the paper, but there's nothing really new under the sun here. In the 20 years the paper claims open source software has been around, this is all been said before.

So why point it out?

First off, there's the "really?" factor to consider. As in "Really? This needs to be said?" Because an IT firm announcing to the free world that open source is the coolest thing ever and oh, by the way, they use it is not really earth-shattering information. The truth is, lots of companies use open source software. Any corporation that has a web site has a 60-percent chance of running Apache (open source) on a Linux (free software) machine. Not to mention the rest of the LAMP stack.

While the paper is a decent one-stop roundup of all things open source in the enterprise, it seems a bit weird to push open source for the sake of open source. This is a company that seems to do more consumption of open source than anything else, though in July they released the source code for the JavaScript needed to plug into their own application framework.

Clearly, they have drunk the open source Kool-Aid, and that's cool. I wish them well. But I hope they are not going to get carried away with how they use open source software.

Here's my real concern… that enthusiastic IT integrators like this, eager to seek that one hook that will get them an edge against their competitors, will deploy software of type X to the exclusion of all else, even if it doesn't serve their customer well.

The simple fact of the matter is, open source is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Nothing really can be.

Would I be happy if everyone used open source and free software all of the world? Sure; from a practical and ethical standpoint, the case could be made. Transparency of code has led to some stunning innovations, and there's more to come. But if open source software cannot do the task you need it to do, and there's some other software out there with a proprietary license that does, should you really stick with a not-ready-yet solution?

Some people might argue yes. I would disagree. I think it's a far greater disservice to the cause of free and open source software to push code just because of a license if it's feature set does not match the needs of the end user.

This is what makes me edgy about these studies that tout one kind of software over another: they are very narrowly focused and, let's face it, they are geared to drive customers through the doors.

Every benefit of open source software mentioned in the paper is true, and should be considered. But at the end of the day, you have to look at all the tools that are right for you and make the best decision for your business.

If the solution is open source or free software? Awesome. But if something else works for you, like proprietary software or a cloud service, then use that. You have to answer to your company and your customers, after all.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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