Archive for June, 2005

Open Source - part 2

Monday, June 20th, 2005

The last article took a look at Open Source software, and its definition.

Open Source software raises all sorts of questions in peoples minds, and the first is “if it’s free is it any good?”

That is a key question, and applies whether software is Open Source or pay as you play. When you are selecting software, the question of quality is paramount, and you have no guarantees either way. Over the years, Microsoft has released some significantly buggy software - so you really never can be sure.

Most commercial software development is on a very agressive development time line, and is released with a number of know and unknown bugs. It is simply the way things are done. To remain competitive, companies need to be continually upgrading their product, and doing so with ever decreasing development cycles. Bugs creep in.

With reputable organizations, the ‘zero’ version will quickly be followed by a series of maintenance releases that will address the majority of the issues.

Is Open Source any different? Well, yes. Most open source software has a very active user and developer community. These are the people that make a living out of enhancing and customizing the product. With popular products, these communities number in the thousands and are very active. Within a very short time, these communities are working at detecting and eliminating the problems found, and in very short order there are usually fixes available.

Does this mean Open Source is better? No, but it does mean that it is more open (pun intended). If there are problems with the software, it is usually fairly easy to find what they are through going to their Wiki or Development forum.

More later…..

Open Source Software - what is it?

Friday, June 17th, 2005

If you have spent any time at all looking for software, then you will have run across the term open source. What does it mean and more specifically, what does it mean to you as a business owner or user. Lets throw a little light on this.

A lot of products that you can buy - most of the products from major manufacturers for instance are proprietary code. You get an executable version, and other than setting program options, what you get is what you get. You have to wait for the software creators to bring out a new version for any significant changes and if you don’t like what they are doing, then you have two choices, either go to a competitive product or live with it.

Open source is a little different. With open source software you get the source code for the program as well as executables, and are free to make changes to enhance the product.

There are three tenets to open source:

You have the right to make copies of the program, and distribute those copies.
You have right to have access to the software’s source code, a necessary preliminary before you can change it.
You have the right to make improvements to the program

The basic idea behind open source is very simple - When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

Some open soource software is available free, other open source software you pay for.

For us at Spinnaker, whenever we are sourcing software for clients, we always look to the open source community first. Our experience is that the software is much more transparent, and any issues with it are out in the open, rather than little surprises that you find out about later. All software has bugs - just look at all of the releases that Microsoft makes, and it’s better you know about them than not.

We have found that you have to do your homework, but that is no different than getting any other piece of software.

Browsers - Is there an alternative

Monday, June 13th, 2005

I would imagine that most of the people that are reading this entry are probably using Internet Explorer and are seeing everything just fine.

Internet Explorer comes bundled with all Microsoft operating systems and unless you take some positive action, then it is the browser that is set up as your default. So, dear reader, Microsoft is expecting that you are going to choose their product through inactivity. This has proven pretty accurate over the years as IE has about 80% of the market space.

Don’t get me wrong, Internet Explorer is not a bad product. It does what most people need, and as I said before it is conveniently installed for you (probably straight from the factory). It is just that there are better options out there, and no I’m not talking about poor old bloated Netscape, I’m talking Firefox.

Firefox is a relatively recent addition to the bowser family, but has been around long enough for it to be a completely stable and mature product. It comes from the Mozilla Foundation, and is an open source product.

Why Firefox? A browser is a browser, right?

Well…….no

Firefox is open source software and has a host of developers all over the planet developing extensions for it. What that means to you is that you have the ability to add features to the browser that make your experience that much more pleasant.

Lets me give you a couple of examples…..

As a web developer it is really nice to be able to sample colors off a web page. I downloaded an extension to Firefox called Colorzilla, and now can easily sample any color off a web page. Also, again as a web developer I have installed an extension that validates HTML coding, so that I can very easily make sure that the pages that I develop are free of errors.

There are literally thousands of extensions available, so you can extend to your hearts content.

Hey - don’t take my word for it - go and download Firefox for yourself and try it out. It is a free download - so all you will lose if you hate it is the time to download and install it. Firefox can be found here