Open systems mean open careers
by Douglas E. Welch
August 27, 1999
© 1999, Douglas E. Welch
There has been much talk lately about the technical and economic
viability of "open source" software such as Linux. It is no surprise
that commercial software vendors try to dismiss the idea of systems
that are open and interoperable. In their current business model
the only way to make money is to make users as dependent on their
software as possible. Open source software goes against this very
idea by allowing users choose which vendor and version of the
software distribution they prefer. There are many benefits to
such a plan both to computer end-users and those of us who make
our living developing technology solutions.
Opening the door
One of the major benefits of open source software is that it opens
the industry to smaller and more varied companies. More companies
mean more products, which, to the technology worker, mean more
solutions. We are in the business of providing solutions and it
only seems logical that the more vendors there are the better
off we will be. Too often today we are forced into choosing among
the lesser of 2 or 3 evils when we recommend a software or hardware
solution. In reality, we often don't even have that many choices.
Do to the market dominance of a few large companies we are forced
to implement technology that we know is flawed. Worse yet, we
often face technology stipulations made by unknowledgeable executives
who think that there is only one software manufacturer, period.
We owe it to ourselves to support open source software. Over time
our companies will benefit and so will we. While there will always
be market leaders we need to break the stranglehold that a few
companies have placed on the technology industry.
Diversity is healthy
The term "computer virus" was first coined because the infection
and propagation of these rogue programs closely resembled that
of biological viruses. Just as chestnut blight only attacked chestnut
trees there are viruses that only attack computers using a specific
operating system, i.e. Windows, Macintosh, Unix. Imagine now a
virus that can infect all computers and all systems. This is the
same as a variant of chestnut blight that not only attacks these
trees but, in theory, kills ALL trees.
It is diversity that keeps a scenario such as this from happening.
All trees are different, even among the same species. Some trees
don't die from blight while others do. The same can be said about
computers. Even simple differences in configuration can render
a system immune to a particular virus.
This "protection by diversity" falls apart, though as more and
more of the computer systems run similar, if not identical versions
of the operating system and other software. As one software manufacturer
gains near total market domination the threat of a virus infecting
90% or more of the total systems becomes a reality. Open source
software, with its diversity, preserves a small amount of protection.
I consider it the same as farmers planting a variety of crops
so that one failed crop will not wipe out the entire farm.
Open competition, not proprietary standards
The computer industry has suffered too long under the fallacy
of the "proprietary standard." The attempts by companies to corner
the market and control an excessive portion of the market has
damaged innovation and the ability of anyone, no matter how small,
to effect a major change in the computer industry. We need open
source software because it helps bring back the days of technological
"garage bands" like those that helped start the industry in the
first place. We need to move innovation out of the corporate laboratories
and back into the hands of those that, as Apple Computer says,
Whether we might believe it yet or not, the future of technology
is in our hands. Our support and use of open source products will
determine if our future and our technology careers are filled
with good solutions and innovation or stagnate in the morass of
poor technology delivered by a few near-monopolies.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com