Open Source for the Enterprise, by Dan Woods and Gautam Guliani ISBN 0-596-10119-8

Reviewed by: Robert Boardman, September 2005
Published by: O'Reilly Books
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$22.95, CDN$32.95, UK£15.95

Computer books that do not deal with specific applications in specific operating environments are scarce. Readable computer books that do not deal with specific applications are even scarcer. Open Source for the Enterprise by Woods and Guliani is not application-specific, although it is generally environment-specific. The latter is probably what readers expect when discussing open source software.

The book is sub-titled “Managing risks, reaping rewards”. Throughout the book the authors focus on building and using a business-like approach to the use of open source software in organizations, particularly for-profit organizations. They start by describing the existing debate about open source software, describe the skill sets needed to make use of various different types of open source software, and develop a strategy which can be used by businesses to judge whether or not a particular open source application is suitable. The various existing open source licensing programmes are compared including Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), General Public License (GPL), Copyleft and others. The book ends with half a dozen valuable appendices focusing on specific topics and applications: open source platform, open source desktop, e-mail and three others. The key theme of the book is “Can you use open source profitably at your organization?”

As is expected, the authors answer that question with a qualified and circumscribed “Yes”. They do not hide their enthusiasm for open source software and they do not hide their experience in business either. They are quite clear that there are rewards available to organizations that use open source software, not just the obvious reward of lower software purchase costs. They are also quite clear that open source software has different risks than off-the-shelf software. The book is about mitigating those risks so organizations can enjoy the rewards. About half way through the book they say “. . . the approach we recommend is a sober one. You will gain nothing by waving the open source flag and applying it everywhere possible, without forethought and planning.” I suggest their five step process for changing to an open source environment could also be profitably used in a modified form by organizations considering the purchase of off-the-shelf commercial software. This book is applicable therefore not only for those who are considering adopting at least a little open source software in their own business. It is solid foundational reading for anyone who is involved in acquiring computer applications in any organization, in any operating environment.

The book is clear, well organized, well written and as up-to-date as possible. The language used is appropriate for the topic. Woods and Guliani discuss the myths and the realities of open source software honestly. They are strong advocates for the adoption of open source software in business, but not at the expense of the business. They do not resort to bashing commercial software and commercial operating systems. Their role, which they are very clear about, is to build a framework for intelligent, informed business decisions.

Not surprisingly the book focuses on software available for the Unix/Linux/BSD family of operating systems. There is a brief acknowledgement at the beginning that open source software does exist for the Microsoft Windows and the Apple Macintosh environments. Otherwise the book discusses software that runs in the Unix/Linux/BSD environment. Most would say this is simply a reflection of the current reality. This focus is not a serious handicap or shortcoming in the book. However, it would have been useful to make clear that certain well-known and well-used open source applications are already available for Windows. The dominant Apache web server runs as open source software on Windows desktops and servers, as does the powerful MySQL database. As well, hundreds of thousands of users have installed Mozilla on their PC desktops as an open source alternative to Internet Explorer. These are just three well-known applications. Setting aside a few pages to discuss these crossover products might be encouraging to potential open source software users.

Open Source for the Enterprise should be read by CIOs, CTOs, and all who are or will be involved in the purchase of corporate software over the next few years. It contains honest, detailed information about the purchase and implementation of open source software.

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