The information technology world is constantly looking for easier methods to implement new features in software applications. The service center industry is no different. Most steel service centers rely heavily on either their small IT staff or their ERP vendor to provide upgrades and enhancements to their core system. One method for improving technology, that requires less IT expertise than writing new programming code, is to use Open Source Software (OSS).
What is open source software?
“Open Source” refers to something that IT personnel can download, modify and share with peers because it is accessible to anyone. Open source software is software that includes the source code that allows developers the ability to review and modify. Source code is the part of the program that everyday users do not see. It is the technology that performs the software operation and dictates how the program or software application works. If changes are required to a program or application, the source code must be available to the developer.
Software applications are created using programming tools that create source code. This code is controlled by developers. When source code is referred to as “proprietary” it means it can only be modified by the person, group or organization that created it initially, since this is their intellectual property. Changes made to proprietary software must be approved by the original owner of the source code and is transferred to other IT departments usually by a license contract. This then provides the user with the ability to license the source code. Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office applications are examples of proprietary software.
The concept for open source software was to allow the sharing of ideas within the IT community and to collaborate on like concepts. With free access to the software, developers are encouraged to make modifications that best suit their projects and thus subsequently share those programs with others.
Firefox, Chrome, Linux and Android are some popular examples of open source software.
Why is open source important?
In the next generation of programming, open source will be a key element to the development and enhancement of software. Allowing companies to share the immense talent of expert developers will be key to reducing development costs. Since so many modules will be available, time spent on developing new applications can be drastically cut.
Open source technology benefits both the developer and non-developer alike. Much of the internet today was built on open source technologies and anyone using the internet to check email, chat online, play video games, stream music or view any web page is connecting to a vast network of computers that use open source software to direct data to and from their local devices. A number of applications are run remotely and not on a local device. Much of this computing is referred to as “cloud” computing.
The last three years have seen a dramatic increase in the interest of cloud computing. Now that users have a better understanding of the concept, they are more open to moving their key operating components to a cloud environment. Many ERP software solutions offer a cloud based service as part of their offerings. The advantage to a cloud based service is that the cloud allows the service center to capitalize on new business without adding substantial infrastructure or additional IT resources.
With the demands of IT increasing and resources decreasing open source software is allowing operations to explore solutions that just a few years ago were out of the question. That being said, Paragon has taken advantage of these opportunities by utilizing the applications that are available and already integrated into the IBM Power platform and the IBM operating system.
Is Open Source Free?
The idea that open source software is free is a common misconception. Software developers who download and modify open source applications can charge money for the enhancements they create. In many cases, once the developer has made custom changes to the application, they are encouraged to make it their own – labeling the product in their own naming convention and taking over all service and support for the product. Thus, the developer can resell the modified version as their own.
Open source software can be found for just about any application. Searches on the internet provide links to various lists. Wikipedia even offers a published list of fee and open source software packages. If your organization has developers on staff, it may be in your best interest to investigate the options available on one of these many lists.
The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a non-profit organization that protects and promotes open source software, development and communities, championing software freedom in society through education, collaboration, and infrastructure, stewarding the Open Source Definition (OSD) and preventing abuse of the ideals and ethos inherent to the open source movement. (Open Source Initiative, https://opensource.org). The OSI is a great source for education on open source technologies.