The Public are Getting Open Source Aware


Occasionally when I'm out and about I get very pleasantly surprised that some people know about what sort of culture my employer operates in. It gives me validation and confirms that I'm in this culture for the right reasons.

I was at a close friends birthday party last Saturday and was chatting to a very enthusiastic lady.

As I said a bit about the company being a hosted business solutions company and what that entailed she became quite excited. She knew what Open Source was all about. She loved the idea of the data being fully accessible and being able to get other people to make changes to the programs that access that data.

She works in the Oil Industry and analyses marine exploration data. They have to get programmers in on occasion to get extra bits of data that isn't being analysed in a meaningful way. She felt that the software she worked with 10 years ago was better for her to work with than what she works for now.

This isn't just a case of the interface being different. It's a case of what data is being given out, how the software analyses it. How that data is being used.

Of course with any software development that's the trouble. Software companies operating under the strategy of improvement can gradually focus on changing an application so much that it's not usable for the customer that it's aimed at in the first place. Businesses end up changing their processes to use the software.

The customers own data is locked up and held to ransom. Partly because of licencing, partly because of the bother of moving that data away from that particular piece of software.

That does a disservice to both the software company (who will not get and in some cases care to hear feedback from the customer) and to the customer. Holding a customer's data for ransom may be legal but it certainly isn't ethical. It's tantamount to blackmail. Customers get trapped in a never-ending cycle of upgrades and data conversion as software developers change what format the data should be saved in.

But I ask any software developer, regardless of whether you follow the Proprietary or Open Source models, to listen to a word of warning. Your clients are waking up to this. Your customers are not just thinking about the "free" part of Free Software in terms of the cost of a license. They are starting to consider the freedom of being able to do what they like with their data.

I welcome this.