The open source movement has been a thread running through my studies over the last 18 months. Each module has provided opportunities for students to explore the role of this movement. Thus:
What Is The Open Source Movement?
According to Wikipedia 2012, para. 1,
“The open source movement is a broad-reaching movement of individuals who support the use of open source licences for some or all software.”
However, I would argue that the Open Source Movement is an illustration of a wider Crowdsourcing Movement. Howe (2006) cited in Wikipedia (2012, para. 3) says that “crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call.”
On reflection, I can now see that my (small) role in classifying galaxies in the Galaxy Zoo 2 astronomy project in 2009 is an example of crowdsourcing for scientific research. The satisfaction gained from making a small contribution to a large project is reflected in other socio-economic environments. Design, research, fundraising and social campaigning are benefitting from this wider movement.
What Are The Key Issues Regarding Open Source Software For Information Professionals?
The Open Source Initiative specifies criteria which must be met by software seeking to be defined as “open source”. Graham and Kramer (2012) outline issues which I consider to be of relevance to information professionals, including the potentially limited documentation, patchy support, requirement for greater technical understanding and non-functioning of some applications. These issues were evidenced in my recent experiments with Drupal. However, the authors also describe the advantages of choosing from a wide range of free applications which are supported by a vibrant community of supporters. Thus, small organisations could avoid becoming “locked-in” to a product by a vendor and benefit from greater customisation.
Implications of Open Source Software For Our Group Project
The group project has provided some practical illustrations of some of the abovementioned issues. Thus, We were unable to use Adobe’s Dreamweaver software for coding the website as the project duration exceeds the free 30 day trial period for the product. Instead, we used the open source Netbeans 7.3 software (interestingly now sponsored by Oracle). I found this to be a better product than Dreamweaver as it highlighted potential coding errors. We also successfully experimented with Gimp as an alternative to Adobe’ s Photoshop product. Obtaining a copy of Microsoft’s Visio software (for wireframing) via the complicated licensing agreement between the vendors and the University was complex and time-consuming; some students on the course did not succeed in obtaining access to the product. As working part-time students, we have very limited access to on-site computer facilities and open-source products have been essential to designing and building the website.
The second implication for our group assignment is reflected by our approach to the management of the project. I have discussed the Agile approach to project management in a previous post. On reflection, it seems to me that the Agile approach, with its flattened management structure and iterative nature is an applied example of crowdsourcing. Thus, all group members are able to contribute knowledge and expertise at different stages of the project via an open process of iteration.
Implications Of Open Source Software In The Workplace
My current role in the Fines Section of a university library has highlighted a potential role for open source software. The library management system software and vendor servers are sometimes affected by technical problems which can result in borrowers incurring fines incorrectly. Problems can only be solved by the software vendors (and only if they deem them to be of a high priority), which can cause frustrating delays for the product users. It would seem logical that libraries with their commitment to open access should support the use of open source library management systems and other related software. This becomes of greater significance to librarians when software companies are juggling the demands of owning information and journal databases with those of selling library software to search information resources. The advantages of integrating the two sides of a business may not be in the interests of library users. It is therefore encouraging that as shown by research by Winkler and MacDonald (2012) there is growing interest in developing standards-based open library management systems.
My experience of using both a range of proprietory and open source software has emphasised the need to consider a number of issues regarding software:
- the implications of a product to the organisation’s business aims (can the business afford to become dependent on a software product?)
- current and future customisation and interoperability (will the product enable or limit business requirements?)
- costs (both immediate and longer term)
- ethical considerations (does the business have policy requirements to fulfill?)
I think that these criteria will vary in importance depending on the workplace environment and would be matched against other explicit and implicit criteria (for example, familiarity with a product) in an organisation’s decision-making process.
So What About Open Source And Me?
In the interests of fairer access to digital technologies, I would prefer to see greater use of open source software and resources in education and the workplace. These can only thrive thorough adoption, so I will make my small contribution to the Movement by recommending the open source products I have used in this project to friends and colleagues.
Adobe Systems Inc. 2012. Products [online]. Available at: http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/catalog.html Accessed: 08 January 2012].
Galaxy Zoo. 2012. Homepage [online]. Available at: http://www.galaxyzoo.org/#/ Accessed: 08 January 2012].
Graham, R. and Kramer, J. 2012. Introduction to web content management systems site development [online]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Extension School. Available at: http://www.trainingcraft.com/Harvard/CMSWeek1/CMS-Week%201-slides.pdf [Accessed 03 January 2013].
Netbeans. 2012. Homepage [online]. Available at: http://netbeans.org/ [Accessed 08 January 2013].
Open Source Initiative. 2012. The Open Source definition [online]. Available at: http://opensource.org/osd [Accessed 08 January 2013].
Wikipedia 2012. Open source movement [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source_movement Accessed 08 January 2013].
Winkler, M. and McDonald, R.H. 2012. Kuali OLE: a collaborative community model for software development. Information Standards Quarterly [online]. Available at: http://www.niso.org/publications/isq/2012/v24no4/winkler/ [Accessed 08 January 2013].