UKOLN Institutional Web Management Workshop 2004:
Beyond Free Beer: Is Using Open Source A Matter Of Choosing Software or Joining A Political Movement?

1. What you wanted to hear

2. What you will hear instead

3. What is OSS Watch?

We are here to advise UK HE/FE about issues around open source software:

We have a staff of 1.25 FTE, comprising one manager (0.25), one communicator (0.5) and two researchers (0.2 and 0.3).

4. What OSS Watch does

and makes all its material available under the GNU Free Documentation License

5. What OSS Watch does not do

6. Depending on your viewpoint

The debate about free/libre/open source software is:

7. Technically, what does Open Source mean?

Software for which:

Open Source is a development methodology; Free Software is a social movement.


In English, free has two meanings in one word, whereas the French distinguish libre and gratuit. Many practioners use the shorthand FLOSS (FreeLibre Open Source Software)

9. Virtues of free and open source software

10. Preaching to the converted?

How many people in the audience can say with hand on heart that they do not use one or more of the following:

Apache logo Camel Linux logo Moodle logo Mozilla logo MySQL logo PHP logo Tomcat logo

You already know the score.

11. The common perception about Open Source

Ray Lane, former Oracle executive, cites six problems with open source:

(ZD Net March 2004 Six_barriers_to_open_source_adoption.html)

12. in more detail

"The free license for an open source package is just a fraction of the cost to deploy and maintain an application. The support infrastructure and assurance is less defined, and enterprises must proceed at their own risk. In many cases, an enterprise can rely on the open source community for more informal support, which won't be sufficient for mission-critical applications."

13. aargh


14. How can we deal with all this?

We can

but can we ignore the issue of support?

15. or are they all about support

We can

16. Breaking down support

Who will support our software?

Not many of these come from the software supplier

17. Support suppliers

Ask yourself where you obtained support in each of these areas the last time you deployed a:

18. Installation

Web server
You followed online instructions
Student records system
The consultant or project team did it
The supplier, consultant or project team did it
Email client
Your desktop support people did it

19. Death

Web server
You call the sysadmin
Student records system
You call the consultant
You call the consultant
Email client
You swear, reboot, and install an upgrade from the web

20. Fixes

Web server
You are too scared to consider it
Student records system
You pay the consultant another £1 million
You call a meeting of the project team
Email client
You upgrade

21. Documentation

Web server
Buy an O'Reilly book
Student records system
There is no documentation
It's online in the system
Email client
Who needs documentation?

22. Training

Web server
If the sysadmin doesn't understand it, send him on a course
Student records system
You paid through the nose for this already
Poke it and see
Email client
If they need training, they can't use email

23. User Help

Web server
They don't know it exists
Student records system
The project team have a phone
Ask on a forum
Email client
Your help desk does this 99% of the day

24. Which of those was open source?

If we replaced Outlook with Mozilla Thunderbird, and Moodle with Blackboard, how much would change?

25. So what does the commercial licence buy you?

26. Key sources of support for all your software

  1. The person at the next desk

  2. Your staff. You pay them to understand this stuff

  3. The web. Self-help is the name of the game

  4. The bookshop. Any software worth using has a shelf-full of books about it

  5. Training courses. Lots of companies offer training

  6. Consultants. Pay a man in a suit to come in and fix things

  7. The people who wrote the software

27. Do it yourself?

28. Join a consortium

You partner with institutions doing the same sort of work, and share resources to solve common problems. Some contribute code, others documentation, others training.

Examples: Bodington (VLE):; SAKAI: (producing open source Collaboration and Learning Environment software); uPortal (portal framework):

29. Employ a specialist consultant

30. Stick with your existing vendors

Some of the biggest players will develop systems based on open source for you:

31. Commercial companies mixing OSS with business

All these see a place for licensing some software under open source terms as part of their business.

32. What about dual licensing?

Some companies offer their software under more than one license. MySQL is a good example. They are a reasonable-sized company with three main sources of revenue:

  1. Online support and subscription services sold globally over the website to all users of the MySQL server.

  2. Sales of commercial MySQL licenses to users and developers of software products and of products that contain software.

  3. Franchise of MySQL products and services under the MySQL brand to value-added partners.

MySQL is available under GPL or commercial license

33. The cathedral and the bazaar

F/OSS projects tend to be classified into two extreme camps:

  1. A genius programmer creates something which others like. (S)he controls pace and scope of future development. The genius has a complete idea of what the finished software will look like. Changes to the design during the build process are very costly, but the resulting software very polished and uniform.

  2. A group of people get together to fill a gap and take on different tasks. As time goes by, some drift away and others join in. There is always someone to take over. Design is by consensus, with people working on topics that motivate them. Design changes are relatively cheap but with no over-arching the finished program can be patchy.

Most projects fall in between. Most of them have a recognised leader, to whom other members defer. A gentle system of leadership challenge and deposition assures the health of the herd is kept up.

Read (Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar)

34. Example 1: Apache

Apache logo

A charitable consortium which

The core Apache server does not get abused because it is in no-one's interests to do so.

35. Example 2: Exim

An individual employed at Cambridge to do good stuff. He

36. Example 3: MySQL

MySQL logo

The classic dual-licensing system. The MySQL company

37. Example 4: Bodington

The cottage industry example

38. Example 5: OpenOffice

OpenOffice logo

The classic big brother project

39. Example 6: Text Encoding Initiative


OSS is not just about programming. The TEI defines guidelines for marking up text.

The TEI move is largely driven by a desire to be distributed and used widely.

40. Example 7: Urchin

The JISC-funded open source project to do RSS aggregation

41. Example 8: TeX

The story from hell. A very well-respected academic writes a typesetting system. You can do what you like with it, but if you call it TeX it must always produce the same result.

But it remains in widespread use.

42. Studying Open Source

The FLOSS study ( is the best known of a series of studies by economists on how FLOSS works.

There is a big archive of papers at

The informal data in following slides is derived from presentations at the Oxford Internet Institute workshop on open source, June 2004.

43. Why do people join open source projects?

The studies show that people join an open source project because

44. Why do people keep working on open source?

The desire to learn technical skills by joining an open project is strong. Typical reasons for staying in OSS are:

45. How do companies work in open source?

46. A movement: Agile

Agile is a conscious revolutionary movement: It prefers:



processes and tools

Working software


full documentation

Customer collaboration


contract negotiation

Responding to change


following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

47. Conclusions

Last modified: 16th June 2004