software increasingly pervasive at the office
by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #668 August 13-19, 2002 High Tech Office
It's less confusing in French: they have two
for it, libre and gratuit. Free
Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman suggests
software be thought of "not in the sense of free beer, but in the sense
free speech." It's often referred to as "open source," since unlike
commercial software, the underlying source code is open to examination
change (at least to people who are more savvy programmers than I). But
users may buy a CD with open-source software on it, it can also be
for free (as in free beer), copied freely, and installed on multiple
in contrast to proprietary software.
Recent changes in Microsoft's corporate
came into effect on July 31 (see High-tech office, April 16, 2002) have
resulted in an increased number of longtime Microsoft customers looking
at alternatives. Two-thirds of customers polled in the spring by Gartner
Information research groups were either unwilling or undecided
to sign on to Microsoft's new licensing plans. And an informal poll
magazine reported that 42 per cent of respondents were unhappy enough
be planning to switch away from Microsoft's products.
But are you ready to trust your business data to free
You may already be doing so without knowing it. Fully
two-thirds of the servers on the Web use open- source Apache Web server
software while open-source Linux is the fastest- growing network
operating system. E-mail is typically sped along its way using the free
sendmail, found on
an estimated 75 per cent of mail servers. The Internet itself runs on
of freely available software protocols such as TCP/IP and HTTP.
Free (as in free speech) software has been getting a
lot of support
from prominent technology companies including IBM, which has
US$1 billion for Linux development. The company has realized it can
money by using Linux as a common operating system across its wide range
product lines. In 2000, IBM sold US$30 million worth of Linux-related
By 2004, it expects to sell US$3.4 billion.
While Linux and Apache remain free (both as in speech
in beer) software, IBM bundles them with for-sale suites of
software such as WebSphere. As well, IBM (and Red Hat, Caldera, and others) sell
and support to users of free software packages.
Open-source software packages underlie the Internet
and are increasingly powering network servers, even in the largest
corporations. But they've been less evident on most of our desktops.
That may be beginning to change. Coincident with the change in
Microsoft's licensing policies, two major open-source projects
aimed at everyday users have released their first official versions:
(www.openoffice.org) is a complete office suite, a potential
for Microsoft Office with which it has good (though not perfect) file
compatibility. Related, but with more features and support, at a price,
is Sun's Star Office 6.0 (US$25-75).
is an open-source Web browser, with a nice e-mail module plus a basic
usable Web page creation program. My favourite feature: tabs allowing
pages in a single browser window. It's related to recent Netscape
versions, without that program's AOL commercial baggage.
While OpenOffice and Mozilla both have versions for
Windows and other operating systems, the Linux operating system aims to
replace Windows entirely. Recent Linux distributions such as Mandrake 8.2 (www.mandrakelinux.com)
easier to install and use on desktop computers than ever. Many
current business Windows users would be surprised at how small a
learning curve there can be in moving to a Microsoft-free
Are you or your business using or investigating
to Microsoft's products that are free as in speech and as in
Let me know.