Open source software is constantly being put down for one reason or another by people with interests other than your own. Keep in mind, I am by no means a zealot and I reserve my Kumbayahs for the rare occasion that I can joke about them. I wear brand name shoes, still enjoy driving for no reason, and shop at retail stores that proabably oppress their labor in some way. I just wanted to take some time to express some of my opinions on a few of the excuses that have cropped up this year and lay them to waste before 2008.
Myth 1: Open source software is not secure because there aren’t as many people using it.
This notion made it to the top of my list because it bugs the hell out of me. Somehow, Joe Computer claims that because Windows has more users, it is more of a target. That being the case, if more people used open source, it would attract more bad guys and script kiddies. If Linux faced this kind of pressure, it would result in more viruses on Linux, right? Dead wrong! Let me dissect this one piece at a time. Windows has more users for now. That I can agree with, but the second part of this statement does not take into account that it is easier for a nefarious technologist to discover problems with proprietary software and keep them to themselves for fun and profit. Will the vendor discuss any problems with their product ahead of a patch? Never! That’s bad for their business model. The past few years have been riddled with incidents of what is known as zero-day exploits. With my sysadmin hat on, I like to explain these incidents as passing the time staring at virus scanners, hoping I unplugged it from the network in time. In simple terms, zero-day exploits mean we had no warning before the flaw was exploited. It defies the logic of open source to be exploited more regularly because the user base has grown. If a company / developer neglected its users, the users can move on to a product that is more secure.
Myth 2: Open source software is derived from communist/socialist/un-american thinking.
The GNU Public License was developed in the United States in a team led by an american lawyer and an american programmer. Red Hat, arguably the largest open source distributor is based in the Carolinas. Novell, a company in Utah, now owns SuSE Linux (Number 2 Linux distribution in the corporate world). BSD stands for Berkley Standard Distribution (That’s Berkley, California). Read the Cathedral and Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond before you make a decision on the political affiliations of programmers. It is sure to enlighten anyone on the fence about whether to use open source software.
Myth 3: There is no competition in open source software. Once you make a decision, you live and die by it.
There are more distributions than you could possibly imagine. There are hundreds of email clients, several web browsers, and more text editing options than anyone could possibly count. When someone comes up with a new idea, they post their source code and others build on it. Many programs are available across several distributions, making it very easy to replace your vendor for the OS and keep the programs. Several groups have nicknamed the open source method “co-opetition”.
Myth 4: This is an IT decision and it’s up to IT to figure this all out.
Computer users have a strong interest in influencing the decisions when it comes to software. Technology professionals can help in anyway they can, but keep in mind that they will not be the ones working day to day creating your data. We try every day to keep your computers running at their peak performance, but if you would prefer having a technician that can research and locate that last piece of the puzzle (the killer app for what you do) rather than someone who makes you put your work on hold while they have to cleanup the spyware and viruses, by all means, at least talk to them about Linux. Once you accept viruses and spyware are just a cost of doing business and that’s why someone’s paid to take care of the computers, you have accepted interruptions in your workflow, costs of safety precautions (antivirus/antispyware/time), and the stress related with losing data to malicious code.
I will be starting a forum soon entitled Technology Myths to accompany this post. Maybe, next year will be the “year of the desktop”.