Open Source: The Sustainable Business Model

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How do you make software development dramatically more eco-friendly?

Two Words: Open Source.

With the Open Source model, you can:

  • Use less packaging.
  • Increase the efficiency of shipping and receiving.
  • Speed up product development.
  • Get rid of resource-heavy validation management services and expensive anti-piracy campaigns.
  • Cut back on unnecessary print advertising.
  • Don’t force customers to purchase more product than they need.

I ran across an article posted at Download Squad recently that really got me thinking about the Open Source development model and how eco-friendly it is.

What Is Open Source?

Open Source software is very different from commercial software you might purchase from, say, Microsoft.

To begin with, it’s free. Yes, free. There’s no need for software validation (think Microsoft Genuine Advantage) or anti-piracy technologies because… it’s free. And it’s mostly distributed online, meaning no wasteful packaging.

Development tends to happen faster in the hands of a few dedicated developers and the feedback of a dedicated community of users than it does in corporate cubicles ruled by Gantt charts and cross-functional meetings.

Does Free Mean it’s Not As Good?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s free it must be of lesser quality than commercial software. There are many Open Source applications that are just as good — if not better — than any commercial software that competes with it.

Just do a Google search for OpenOffice.org, PHP & MySQL, or Drupal to see what I mean. Open Source software accounts for millions of users worldwide.

So, What Does That Mean for Us and Our Environment?

Simply put, the Open Source model is friendlier to our environment than comparable commercial software. I’m not saying that everyone should go out protest against software that comes in a box. I’m also not saying that all Open Source software is better than it’s commercial counterparts.

But I am saying is that perhaps the software industry should take a look at its model.

Should You Explore Open Source? Yes!

A great place to start is with OpenOffice.org. This is a completely free office software suite that offers most of what you get from Microsoft Office, plus a few features that you don’t get from Microsoft Office. You can install it on your computer along with any of your current software, and it even opens and saves Microsoft file formats like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

Another great resource is the OpenDisc project. This is an entire CD packed with Open Source software for Windows (sorry Mac Users…) that spans everything from desktop publishing to antivirus software. Did I mention that it’s free?

One Final Request.

Open Source software is free, but it takes the time, energy, and oftentimes the money, of dedicated individuals. If you decide that a particular program has earned a home on your computer, consider making a donation to it’s developers.

This not only keeps their computers running, but it encourages them to keep providing great Open Source software for us and our environment.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

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Introducing ‘Tech Tuesday’!

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(From Kevin — We are proud to launch a new feature today on 21st Century Citizen: Tech Tuesday! Please welcome Matt Murphy!)

About Me

I ‘discovered’ 21st Century Citizen via Twitter. That, perhaps, is a good indication of where my interests and background lay. My name is Matthew Murphy. I work as a business analyst, blogger, freelance writer, and web design consultant. In other words, I’m a geek. Besides the geek thing, I’m also passionate about environmental issues. I have been ever since I can remember.

I grew up with a strange dichotomy of technology and nature. My mother taught me all about lightning bugs and grasshoppers, and how the night crawlers come out after the rain. My father has always been a technologist. Back in the days when computers didn’t even have hard drives, he took computers to preschools and taught the kids to play educational games. Before most kids knew what a computer was, we had a dozen or so in our basement.

Attitudes & Goals

Many people seem to feel that technology is an enemy of the environment. In fact, I recently listened to a podcast in which a lawyer argued that the only way to save our planet was to devolve our technology. I don’t have the answer to the question of saving our planet. I don’t even think that there is just one answer. But I get angry when I hear things like this. You can’t blame what we’ve done or haven’t done on a thing or a tool. In fact, I’m quite certain that we need our technology if we really want to save the planet.

This column, Tech Tuesday, was really Kevin’s idea. I’m quite honored to be a part of 21st Century Citizen in this way. Kevin is giving me the opportunity to really dig in and focus on what is happening in the tech world that is important to the 21st Century Citizen community. Although my goals for this column will certainly evolve over time, there is one goal that will be in the forefront of my writing here. That is, to dissolve the ‘technology vs. the environment’ mentality.

Possibilities

Technology is a really broad topic. Where do you start? The hinge on your door is technology. Fire is technology. Technology impacts the environment in so many ways. We constantly hear stories of industrial waste being dumped or computers and electronics being shipped to countries like China instead of being recycled. While I worry about these things, I don’t know much more than you do about them. My background is in telecommunications and web applications, so the many of my articles talk about ways in which the internet influences how we approach the environment. I’m constantly amazed by the possibilities created by emerging web technologies. Educators are using Skype to reach far off students. The people in third world countries are using YouTube to show Westerners what life is really like for them. Even the candidates for the upcoming presidential election are leveraging the internet to extend their reach to a new class of voters. And did you know that the entire Live Earth concert was broadcast over the internet?

Once again, I’m honored to be able to reach out to the 21st Century Citizen community like this. I can’t wait to share my excitement with you. I hope that this column grows into a dialogue where we can trade ideas about how we can use technology to bring our world back in balance. I also invite you to visit my own blog, where I share my ideas on web technology, the environment, and, occasionally, my love of fine teas.

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