As business owners and managers, we are all challenged with choosing the correct software solutions to gain a competitive edge. Whether it’s an ecommerce platform to expand your reach online, point of sale systems with inventory management across multiple locations, customer relationship software for better user experiences and accountability, accounting software, fulfillment…and so on.
Unfortunately, for most of us, the confusion begins the moment the decision is made that software is needed. First, there are so many vendors selling such similar products, and then it just gets worse when the realization occurs different pieces of software are going to have to work together. Oh…and then customization requests come from all sides: managers, clerks, HR, customer service.
At ATAK, we develop web-based tools for our customers. We make websites that need to often work with and for other business operations. To do this requires complete control of the code, from end to end. Open source software has to be a part of our core philosophy, and it is.
I feel it is time every business owner or manager knows this term: Free Open Source Software: software that gives programmers/coders complete access to its “source code.” The actual, original, complete code a programmer can manipulate to change how an application works.
Open Source Software is software we can customize. With access to the source code, programmers can improve processes by adjusting features that are inefficient, adding new tools that did not exist before, creating custom permissions, and most importantly, integrating independent pieces of software together where necessary.
Free is Short for Freedom, Not Price
Software sticker shock can come fast - per month, per user, per branch, and on it goes. When we say open source software is “free,” we don’t necessarily mean the price is $0, because often this is not the case. To ATAK Interactive, free means the software engineers respect the user’s essential freedoms to run the software where he or she wants, study and manipulate code to be better for the user and administrators alike, and redistribute copies can be made with or without changes.
Free is more about “free speech” and not “free dessert.” When end users (coders) have these freedoms, society benefits through this sharing and cooperation, especially as our world becomes more and more digitized.
Fortunately, a lot open source software IS free to acquire. The two main free and open software frameworks we use are WordPress (for most sites) and Magento (for eCommerce sites). Custom applications of these still require you hire a coder who can install, customize, and maintain the integrity of every user’s experience.
Everyone Loves a Food Analogy
So, let’s try to explain FOSS with a food analogy, because everybody loves a good snack.
Imagine you have made some cookies for a birthday party. When you hand out the cookies you have provided something that sustains them, but also you have improved your friends’ lives a little more.
Now, what if you also give your friends the recipe? Now these your friends can produce these cookies themselves and improve the lives of even more people. Moreover, if your friends prefer slightly different ingredients they can modify your recipe to their tastes, and still their lives are improved.
For example, your friend Beth may be gluten free and thus your product could hurt Beth more than it could help. Having the recipe allows Beth to make a more informed decision on whether to ingest what was made and what modifications must be made in order to make the snack edible. This is important as everyone (or every business) is slightly different and needs customization. Without the recipe there is no starting point to work from.
Now that more friends can make your cookies, they reach even more people by producing more and at a faster rate. Sharing your recipe (or code) also allows your friends to bake with you. This practice should lead to stronger bonds and better knowledge of the product and its ingredients through shared experiences of making the cookies, and potentially drawing in others who make cookies to share in the evolution, using your method as a baseline. This common language for collaboration is huge because people can now share in the baking (development), which can save time and money long run.
Sharing does not result in a loss of financial gain, nor would one lose comprehension/capability. There is no need to be too proud to the point you should want to protect the process. By sharing, friends work together and enjoy the same learning experiences, passing the information along without consequences. By sharing your recipe, one gets to watch it travel to other places and make impacts in these places never imagined.
Ready to work with a web development company that's not afraid to share its recipes? Give us a call.