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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, "think different!"

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:

He can reached via email at

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