Open Source in an Economic Downturn

Craig Buchek
May 9, 2009
The Open Source movement is just a faster, Internet-enabled implementation of the much older academic tradition of peer review and building on foundations laid by others. -- Paul Murphy

About Me

  • Using GNU/Linux since 1994
  • Chair of St. Louis LUG since 1999
  • Independent web developer since 2006
    • BoochTek, LLC
    • Ruby on Rails, PHP
  • Various consulting and contacting positions
  • Certifications from Microsoft and Novell

About You

  • How many have used Linux?
  • How many have used other Open Source applications?
    • Firefox
    • Open Office
    • Thunderbird
  • How many have used Google?
  • How many own a TiVo?

About Your Business

  • What size company do you work for?
    • Large corporation
    • Medium size company
    • Small business or consulting
    • Unemployed
  • Does your company use Open Source?
  • Does your company use Java?

The Challenge

  • Economic Downturn
  • Lower demand
  • Lower revenue
  • Lower profits
  • Employee lay-offs

What You Can Do

  • Lower Costs
  • Raise Prices
  • Increase Demand
    • Lower Prices
    • Improve the quality of your product/service
    • Improve the efficiency of your product/service
    • Make your product/service more desirable
  • Go Out of Business

What You Can Do

  • Same business imperatives as always
  • Just more urgent

How Open Source Can Help

  • Lower Costs
  • Increase efficiency
  • Increase flexibility
  • Allow you to concentrate on your product/service
  • Help you stand out from the crowd

What Is Open Source?

Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. -- Open Source Initiative

What Is Open Source?

  • A licensing scheme, allowing distribution to anyone
  • Another name for Free Software
    • Because "free" is ambiguous in English
    • Because people associate "free" with no value
  • A way to collaborate on software development
  • Sharing of source code, so others can make improvements
  • Realization that once you've produced code, it costs nothing to distribute

Open Source v. Free Software

  • Free Software emphasizes freedom
  • Open Source emphasizes low cost, flexibility, control
  • Freedom and control are 2 sides of the same coin
  • I will use them interchangeably

Free Software Definition

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Cost Savings

  • Free or low cost
  • Low cost maintenance/support
    • Often just taken care of in-house
  • Lower hardware requirements
  • Less administrative overhead


  • Avoids lock-in with a single vendor
  • Interoperability
    • Open Source tends to follow Open Standards more
  • Can modify the source code if necessary
    • Bug fixes
    • Added functionality

Open Source Downsides

  • Licensing issues
  • Learning curve
    • Higher cost of employees
    • Training costs
  • Cost of switching
  • Fear and uncertainty


  • Using FLOSS has no restrictions/requirements
    • But commercial software usually does
  • Open Source licenses give you additional rights
    • Commercial EULAs take rights away
  • If you distribute copies or make modifications, you must follow terms of copyright law and licenses
  • If you're just using Open Source - no worries
  • If you're just distributing unmodified Open Source - no worries
  • If you're distributing modified Open Source with source code - no worries
  • If you're mixing Open Source with proprietary extensions - talk to a lawyer
    • Unless the Open Source code is BSD or MIT, then just ensure proper attribution

Fear and Uncertainty

  • Seems safer to stick with a known quantity
    • Even if it's known to be a poor choice
  • Can blame the seller of a proprietary product
    • But pointing fingers never helps
  • Open Source requires taking responsibility
  • People often care more about their jobs than helping the company

Who Uses Open Source

  • IBM
  • Google
  • Sun
  • Novell
  • Oracle
  • NYSE
  • Microsoft
  • Governments
  • Small businesses
  • Everyone!

How To Do It

  • Slowly and carefully
  • Start with new systems instead of migrations
  • Start with smaller, non-mission-critical apps
  • Do your homework
    • Make sure the cost savings will offset the migration costs
  • Consider Software As A Service options
    • Online services

Where to Start

  • Firefox
  • Open Office
  • LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) for web and app servers
  • GNU/Linux and Samba for file servers
  • GNU/Linux and Postfix for email

Open Source for the Unemployed

  • Learn new technologies
    • Broaden your experience
    • Keep experience up to date
    • Have something to show prospective employers
    • Make a difference
  • Become a part of the community
    • Network with other people

Further Reading

Further Exploration



Presentation Info