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Open source is widespread but much is invisible

OSS flies in below the radar and 'just works'.

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Councils are clearly moving towards open source, as noted in our story a few days ago. However, equally interesting is the guidance that's being dished out to IT managers by SocITM, the Society of IT Managers, which represents IT managers in the public sector, from local councils to the police and fire services, housing authorities and other locally delivered public services.

The survey recently undertaken by SocITM to determine just how much open source software (OSS) was being used found that 34 per cent use OS applications and 39 per cent use OS infrastructure software such as Linux. Sixty per cent expected their use of open source (OS) software to increase and only one per cent said they would using less OS software, while the rest will remain the same or didn't know.

However, SocITM points out that, just as is happening enterprises in the private sector, OSS is almost certainly in use in many more locations than IT managers believe. In fact, the higher up the manager, the lower the visibility of OSS -- more on this later.

However, the document points out that OSS isn't always visible to anyone. For example, it's often found embedded in devices from NAS boxes in smaller departments to mobile phones, ADLS routers and webcams.

Systems with which users interact more openly and are therefore visible include the open source multi-router traffic grapher (MRTG) and Ethereal, both of which are in widespread use for network traffic and protocol analysis.

It's also likely that Apache and others http servers and utilities will be running in data centres, even if only on test rigs or intranets. And if IT managers use remote control to manage servers, the chances are that they'll turn to RealVNC, the open source system that offers a wide range of cross-platform interoperability.

And finally, as the document highlights, even Microsoft distributes OSS in its W2K Resource Kit. The first item on the contents list of the package includes Activestate’s Activeperl, a C-like scripting language ported from UNIX to Windows 2000 -- provided as OSS.

There's no chance whatsoever that this state of affairs is not mirrored to a greater or lesser extent in most private sector organisations as well. So claims that there is no OSS running in this organisation, department, or company, chances are that they are incorrect to a fairly major extent.

The driver is of course cost, as the survey confirmed. It's the top reason why IT managers choose OSS -- 80 per cent selected this reason, with the next most popular reason being less vendor lock-in at 11 per cent. And the reason why the CIO might not know about the OSS is obvious: with nothing to spend acquiring it, there's no need for a budget item, or for a discussion about it. OSS just gets installed, and it just works.

However, those who kicked off the OSS movement with high motives will be saddened to note that giving something back is low on the list of priorities, with customisation and collaboration scoring just eight and four per cent respectively.


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