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Open Source Taking Up Residence?

Posted by: Sarah Lacy on January 23, 2006

I am renowned for taking my work place anxiety to bed with me. If I’m working on a tough story, 10-to-1 I dream about it night-after-night until it’s done. I even collect anxiety dreams: I still have ones about getting table five its food on time or it’s the last month of a college semester and, oops, I forgot to go to that English class all year.

But, seriously, the nerdiest dreams I’ve had are covering the software beat.

Once, I fell asleep watching "The Rookie." I had an elaborate dream about a small startup company that had missed its shot at the bigs, only to later find out it was uncommonly fast at automating a certain thing in the business software world. It got discovered, had an IPO, and the crowd went wild. All the while, in the dream, I was furiously trying to get the story.

It's even catching: When I first started covering software, my husband dreamt that he was at an event and madly following around Larry Ellison trying to line up an interview for me.

The latest? I'm planning an open source special report for BW Online that runs Feb. 6, and I had a dream that my husband and I got a new computer and I decided to install only open source software on it-- just to see for myself how far desktop open source had really come. It seemed like such an interesting challenge in the dream, that I actually ran the idea past my husband, but he vetoed buying a new computer or my trashing all the software off of our desktop at home.

This brings me to my point though: Open source seems to be making strides in the consumer realm, but who all realizes it? The obvious example is Firefox-- but despite its runaway success, how many users realize its open source? And did you know TiVo uses Linux? I didn't until recently.

Where else is open source cropping up in your daily lives? Does it ever become a branding tool? If people like me love FireFox and love TiVo-- might new services and devices try pull on that halo effect by also using Linux or open source software? Could it ever become the new Apple for a group of devotees sick of Microsoft, Sony and the old consumer guard? Please share!

Reader Comments


January 23, 2006 5:15 PM

Firefox a run away success? Or an overhyped product with misleading advertising?

Dave Rosenberg

January 23, 2006 5:52 PM

I think most of us involved in open source take for granted the true pervasiveness of open source and open standards in our daily consumer lives (Tivo, Firefox, Apache, XML) let alone in business where we rely on these things and more, and integrate with various other open source products using standards-based protocols.

The open nature of the source code is about being able to control your own fate and not being beholden to corporations that tend to only have their best interests at heart.

It's also important to remember that technically speaking "open source" is not a brand, it's a methodology. This has caused a bit of confusion in the marketplace.(Matt Asay and I define an open source company as one that has distribution, modification, and evolution of (open access) source code core to its business model and to its financial success.)(

Regardless, I am completely behind pushing "open source" as a movement that helps remedy the proprietary software malaise that many enterprises struggle with.

BTW: I tend to have the open source daydream phenomenon where all of the sudden I have some epiphany that thanks to Tivo and the internet I can't remember 15 minutes later.


January 23, 2006 7:33 PM

Probably the most obvious use of open source in your everyday life is on the web. More than 60% of websites are using the apache web server.

How about an open source article the talks about the real players in the open source arena, the consultants, freelancers and small development firms that are now able to compete with global it giants. These are the real winners.

Reuven Cohen
Chief Technologist, Enomaly Inc.


January 24, 2006 5:10 AM

That 'Firefox Myths' site is rather less than unbiased in its presentation of facts... (can we say 'FUD'?) Of course absolutes are usually wrong, but does that mean that Firefox isn't very good? Consider the statement "Firefox is Secure" which the page says is a myth. Their 'proof' consists of a statement that says it doesn't have "unbreakable security" (really, what does?) and a some (out-of-context) stats from Secunia. The latter is especially misleading because Secunia actually provides a great case for why Firefox is much MUCH more secure than Internet Explorer.

Firefox 1.x:

"Currently, 3 out of 26 Secunia advisories, are marked as "Unpatched" in the Secunia database" and the worst is "rated Less critical."

Firefox tends to have fewer, less dangerous flaws and fixes them quickly.

IE 6:

"Currently, 21 out of 91 Secunia advisories, are marked as "Unpatched" in the Secunia database" and the worst is "rated Highly critical."

Internet Explorer tends to have more, more dangerous flaws and fixes them slowly.

If you dump Internet Explorer for Firefox you will definitely be safer. End of story. In fact, FF is better than IE in almost any category you can think of.


January 24, 2006 6:20 AM

Hey, Sarah, imagine, you can even try to realize your "dream" right now without throwing your old hardware away and keeping the old software on it. Just get a copy of Kanotix. Boots from CD, runs in Live-mode without touching your HD. If you're pleased with it you can run the partitioning program and install it as dual boot (parallel to Windows). For multimedia I'll drop a keyword: marillat. A Google search with Debian as second keyword will give you everything you might need in terms of multimedia capabilities.

Or take Mandriva or SuSE the official versions. Or MEPIS or PCLinuxOS. They are all very very fine for starting the open source dream and staying with it.

Need program analogies?

Photoshop GIMP
Paintshop Krita
MS Office OpenOffice
InternetExplorer Firefox, Konqueror
Winamp amaroK
Nero k3b
WindowsMediaPlayer kaffeine
CorelDraw inkscape
ACDsee digiKam

And so on. Scribus is a free DTP program. However, be prepared, there are some areas where you might miss some software. If you are absolutly desperate concerning these, try/buy CrossoverOffice.

And finally: Linux is far from being perfect, however, it came out of the blue and it is here to stay, because it is free for everybody. It is a gift to mankind (at least as long as they use computers).



January 24, 2006 8:33 AM

In your comment about thinking of trying an open source system, you did not mention anything related to the phenomenon of 'Live CDs'. These are easily available for many linux distributions and do not install anything at all, but are fully functional otherwise.

An option would also be a dual boot system, not difficult, but needs more commitment of course.

I did purchase a suitable basic new PC for a low price (Dabs(value range) UK, 150 uk pounds includes tax, less the display), and it happened to have linux installed anyway, although I put my own favourite on it anyway.

Open source is worth a try.

'TheOpenCD' is downloadable and is full of open source apps for windows, too.

Karl O. Pinc

January 24, 2006 3:02 PM

I just spent $150 for a new computer, $320
for a card (just so I could use my existing
phones and have 4 separate phone
lines), downloaded the asterisk
(open source) phone system software,
and am running my phones on
my Internet connection. No phone
company required.

So far, it's working pretty well, although
there have been some times when the
company I'm using to gateway into the
traditional phone system seems to go
off-line. Maybe I need to pay more than
$1/month/phone number and 1 cent a minute?

P.S. Don't try this with the typical cable
company broadband. Their networks are
usually too poor. Internet service from
the phone companies tend to make it
difficult too. Pay the extra cost
per month and get a dedicated line from
an independent. Choose a company highly
rated by an impartial ISP rating site like and you won't ever regret
leaving the phone company behind.

James Randall

January 24, 2006 7:33 PM

3 steps to using an ALL open source solution at home WITHOUT touching your hard drive:
1. Download this image ( and burn it to a CD-R.
2. Pop the CD into your drive.
3. Reboot.



January 24, 2006 7:46 PM

One option is you could pick up an old computer on ebay for $50 or so, just for open source. I run Mandrake 8.2 on an IBM 300PL, 400mz and 128 mg ram, and it works just fine.


January 24, 2006 10:20 PM

Being in the IT field I am the obligatory family IT Guy. I personally switched to Linux/Gnome/Redhat in 2001 and have not looked back. However I was still required to support my home PC which my wife and kids and both set of parents used. Nothing was draining my desire in the geekly goodies more than fixing Windows-related problems. Expecting my wife, my kids, and my parents to be up to speed as far as security, firewalls, and viruses seemed to defeat the purpose of a computer.

So I switched them ... I moved them to a Linux/Gnome/Fedora environment. They have adjusted nicely and have not asked move me to move them back.

Frankly it boils down to what you want to do with your computer ... Is it a tool that you accomplish tasks with or is it a NeoPet needing constant care and nurturing?

Dennis Soper

January 25, 2006 10:53 AM

As a systems administrator, I spend much of my day dealing with broken Windows machines (I do, however, replace Windows with Linux at any opportunity in my job). I don't need to deal with this at home, so I run Linux and OpenBSD. No viruses, no spyware, no crashing, and no crappy Windows UI. I really don't understand what folks find so nice about the Windows desktop, either. A traditional *nix desktop is *much* easier to use, once you spend a bit of time learning the ins and outs.

Udi Granot

January 25, 2006 2:27 PM

well, open source has surely made an impact in one IT field - software development, not surprising. Software developers have their radars online for any good, professional alternative to proprietary tools. Open source software developers usually first develop (open source) tools to help them in their work, ergo open source has the greatest impact, to date, in software development.


January 25, 2006 3:52 PM

I think we're missing Sarah's point here. She isn't debating the merits of Linux - she's debating whether or not consumer technology companies can brand products as "Linux-based" and achieve greater revenues. For example, buy our new smart phone, it's sleek, secure and Linux-based. Question is, do people care? Should people care?

Larry Povirk

January 25, 2006 4:25 PM

I honestly don't understand people who find Linux hard to use. I've had Fedora as my primary desktop at work since 2000, and sure, I've had problems, but usually a quick internet search reveals a gaggle of people who've had the same problem and 2 or 3 who've found a solution, often described in great detail. At least with Linux, there usually IS a solution, other than reinstalling the whole system. I finally installed SUSE at home as well, on a second-hand Thinkpad. I don't have any formal computer training, but just with tips gleaned from the 'net, I managed to repartition the drive to make room for SUSE, without disturbing either the XP installation or the recovery partition. I got ethernet and dialup working and I have several Windows programs working without Windows, using Crossover Office. On the other hand, for the life of me, I can't get our new XP computer to talk to any of our older Win2003 boxes, and neither can our IT staff.


January 26, 2006 10:31 AM

Mars DeLapp

January 27, 2006 3:35 AM

Another way to try GNU/Linux is to install the free (no cost) VMWare Player and get one or more pre-built virtual machines Then you can run GNU/Linux in a virtual machine on Windows without repartitioning your hard drive. And the best benefit of this configuration is you can run BOTH operating systems at the same time and easily switch between the two.

Rob Schneider

January 29, 2006 2:09 AM

It is easily achievable for the typical "professional" type person to do professional work on so-called "open source" software. Only gamers wanting access to the latest ubiquitoius games specific to the Windows, Mac, XBox360, PSP, PS2, etc. platform will need that platform.

I would recommend you include a side-bar in the article which explains just what "open source" is. To me, it's where the developer/owner of the software product releases for view the source code. "Open Source" does not necessarily mean "free of cost", or "no license requirements". It means you have access to the source code. The license under which the product is made available stipulates how that source code can be used. There are many different licenses which provide a spectrum of rights to the user and owner. You also should clarify that the use of the term "proprietary" is common mis-used. Look this word up in the dictionary and you'll see its use relates to ownership of property. It does NOT mean "secret" or "closed source." The license associated with Open Source software defines the property rights; hence Open Source software is proprietary.


February 8, 2006 4:04 AM

The role open-source plays with Firefox is largely irrelevant to the bulk of the users, who will never take the opportunity to see/change the code for themselves.

Firefox riding on the open-source bandwagon would be gravy, if it was a browser for linux techies. I think too much credit is given to it for being open-source when at the end of the day that just doesn't mean anything to most of the users.

Goyo de la Brisa

April 21, 2006 4:46 PM

"Open source" is also used in movie production as a way of creating films using an ever changing group of persons and in which the process can be seen from outside.

The "God's Companion" animated film is an Open Source Production.

It is marketed through the Blogosphere and is distributed by Google.

Want to be in the movies? Well, come on down.

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