Open source software can be a double-edged sword

By Ahmed ElAmin, The Royal Gazette, 5 May 2004

The European Commission, that oft maligned administrative arm of the European Union, has published a handy guide for computer system administrators who are considering whether to migrate operations to open source software (OSS).

The guidelines are meant for member governments, but much of the advice in the 148-page report can be applied to corporate systems.

The term ‘open source’ refers to software that is free of copyright and that can therefore be amended to suit the particular needs of a user. For operating systems this means Linux or its variants (see and for more information).

European governments have been particularly keen not to tie the development of their online services (referred to as e-government services) to commercial operating systems, especially to Microsoft's Windows, for strategic and political reasons.

There are many reasons for administrations to migrate to OSS, the document states. These include: the need for open standards for e-government; the level of security that OSS provides, the elimination of forced change, the cost of OSS. All these benefits result in far lower IT costs.

OSS is a disruptive technology that enables a fundamental change to the way organisations provide IT services, says the independent consultants who produced the guidelines for the Commission.

OSS software costs nothing to install, the authors state. The issue is where to get support. There are a number of third party support companies as well as the distribution vendors. However if your attitude to IT is ‘Who do I sue when things go wrong?’, then perhaps OSS is not for you.

Actually consultants such as Forrester have warned that the full costs of doing away with licensed operating systems in favour of OSS are often not considered. The cost of support in systems like Linux can add considerably to the ultimate price, but that is another story. The guidelines are available at

Software Is buggy. That's the central theme of the Cooperative Bug Isolation Project, launched by the University of California and Stanford University.

The two universities have released software that will send information about problems in your software to a central site. The information will allow coders to evaluate and fix software in a community-wide effort to wipe out mistakes or problems (bugs) in commonly used software.

All you need to do is install our software and you're ready to go. You don't need to be a programmer in order to participate. Just use your computer as you would normally, according to the instructions.