Why Free Software?
Open Source and Free means software that you control, rather than software that controls you. Its source code is available under a type of copyright license that permits you to study, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified form, if you wish to do so. The effect is that you always have full access to all aspects of your software. You can make the changes so that software does do exactly what you want. You can adapt it to your needs so that you do not have adapt to the limitations of the software.
Here at Openflows, we use free software not only as good practice but also as an expression of the social movement that embraces open, non-proprietary, community-driven solutions to technological issues. We care about our users' freedom, in more than a business sense.
This concept has equally important results for programmers as well as for people employing open source/free software in their organizations. The most important are:
Commercial software is expensive because of the need to pay licensing fees. It is also generally built for the latest hardware, which forces you to upgrade your processor speed and memory just to keep using new versions.
If you need help, it is usually available only for a fee. After all, service contracts are big business for software companies, and as long as they keep the source code hidden, the company that writes (and sells) the software is the only one who really can understand and fix it.
Open source/free software is cost-effective. It will often run well on older equipment -- not just the latest and most expensive. Thus, existing hardware can be used longer, new hardware can be procured more affordably, and there is less pressure to upgrade.
Freedom of Information
As well, the basis of each open source/free software package is an online community of developers and users who freely share information about their programs. This makes it substantially easier to find someone else who has already encountered a similar problem and will provide assistance regarding its solution. Should you need extensive and more direct support, a range of companies specialize in helping organizations use open source/free software.
Computers often crash due to bugs in the software they're running. Sometimes these bugs exist because the software is poorly written. Other times, the software is being used in an unintended way, or in an environment that is foreign or novel to the software, as in the case of hardware incompatibility. These bugs exist in all software.
Many eyes make problems shallow
One of the greatest strengths of open source/free software is that these bugs can be found and eliminated rapidly because the source code (where the bug is actually located) can be examined and improved by everyone and anyone.
The effect of this open ended peer-review process is that the software becomes far more stable and reliable, because it is frequently updated. While an individual using the software does not have to keep up with the speed of development, they will benefit from the quick turnover of new ideas, features, bug fixes and security patches.
Open and secure
This openness doesn't mean that security can be easily compromised; the technologies used in open source/free software to provide online security are tried-and-tested, and scrutinized by many. More security issues have arisen from proprietary vendors' suppressing reports of their product's vulnerability to save face, rather than from a culture that encourages the speedy exposure and repair of problems.
Open source/free software is flexible and plays well with others. The flexibility comes from the fact that you have full control over the software and can change it to do exactly what you need. And if your needs change over time, so can your software. It is often developed in a highly modular way, making it easy to add functionality without having to change the entire set-up. And given the fact that we use only open source/free software that has a large user community, chances are that the module you need already exists or that there is something close to it that can be adapted to your needs.
Open source/free software, because it's developed in an open collaboration, is usually standards-compliant and well-documented. This means that it can be tweaked easily to work together with other programs, especially if they are standards-compliant as well. It's possible to combine different packages to create solutions that fit one need: yours.
Freedom from licensing changes
When you pay for proprietary software, you do not actually own it. Rather, you purchase a license for its use. The problem, of course, is that licensing terms can change.
Freedom from technology lock-in
Sometimes, a program's initial version is given away free (or very cheaply) to build up users' dependency, which then can be exploited through expensive upgrades. Other times, a package that was initially released by a university is then bought up by a for-profit company, and the licensing terms change. There is virtually no way to predict how licensing conditions will develop over the long term when it comes to proprietary software.
With open source/free software, this uncertainty does not exist. There are no licensing fees, and the conditions grant you the unlimited rights to use, distribute and modify programs.
Enhanced cooperative culture
Open source/free software is developed and maintained in a way that will be beneficial to most organizations: cooperatively. This means that in general, it will not be necessary to deal with a far-away company for support. In most cases, an open network of people and groups who develop and use the software collaboratively is nearby. You can find technical support from someone locally who understands your particular needs and is able to give advice on how to address them. The sharing of information is at the heart of the movement and there is a wealth of resources out there that feed its growth.
Contribution to the local economy
When you buy software, your money usually flows to a company that has very little connection to the work that you do and the community in which you work. This is not the case with open source/free software. When you need to buy services (for example, when setting up your technological infrastructure) you can hire local people who share your goals. This not only makes for better collaboration and understanding, it also supports the local economy. Money stays within your community.
Openflows takes our obligation to give back to the free software community seriously. This usually takes the form of bug reports and patches submitted directly to the maintainers of a given project, or sponsorship of new features, but we have also produced some contributions that are hosted here:
Drupal resources (includes security information for unsupported older versions)
monit resources (includes a backport of monit 4.9 for Debian etch)
silc 1.0.4 server and client for Debian sarge and etch (the official distribution currently just contains packages in unstable)