Opening up a new way of operating.Byline: By SUE SCOTT
OPEN SOURCE, downloadable software has historically been treated with suspicion by business whose loyalty was bought - at huge price - by corporate producers of neatly shrink-wrapped, slickly marketed products with their comforting promises of on-call advice whenever you hit a glitch.
The idea that any serious business could run on the back of a free package developed by two geeks in a garage was unthinkable. Until now.
Because the reality for many firms is that systems are changing so rapidly and the cost of upgrades is so great, that any alternative to the monopolistic hold Microsoft has over them has to be considered.
Bill Gates' recent announcement that support would no longer be available for Microsoft's ubiquitous OS XP, in order to force a global switch to Vista, could have been the last straw.
That's what computer experts on open source software at Teesside University are hoping.
They've been concerned for some time that businesses facing assault on all sides from the credit crunch Credit Crunch
An economic condition whereby investment capital is difficult to obtain. Banks and investors become weary of lending funds to corporations thereby driving up the price of debt products for borrowers. are not making the most of what have become sophisticated, reliable, cheap software solutions available over the internet.
More than capable of supporting almost any business operation - from enterprise resource planning See ERP.
(application, business) Enterprise Resource Planning - (ERP) Any software system designed to support and automate the business processes of medium and large businesses. (ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) An integrated information system that serves all departments within an enterprise. Evolving out of the manufacturing industry, ERP implies the use of packaged software rather than proprietary software written by or for one customer. ) to customer relationship management (CRM (Customer Relationship Management) An integrated information system that is used to plan, schedule and control the presales and postsales activities in an organization. ) and finite element planning, as well as more routine chores like payroll and inventory control - the majority can be introduced without disrupting the entire company and causing a nervous breakdown nervous breakdown
A severe or incapacitating emotional disorder, especially when occurring suddenly and marked by depression.
nervous breakdown in the IT department.
"The root cause is failure of imagination.
Companies just don't know what open source can do," says Dr Alan Jones, who heads up the computer school.
That and an allergy to risk.
"A lot of the reason why companies do not adopt open source are risk related - they think they won't be able to open an Office document ever again, or that they need hours of training," says Tim Brunton, tutor and the school's business development manager. "There are plenty of companies out there who could download Star Office, for example, and install it without any problem."
Alerting Teesside companies to this software sweetie shop and helping them integrate packages into their current systems, forms the basis of the School's bid to regional development agency One NorthEast.
The School recently asked Teesside firms to help support its application to run a graduate consultancy service for businesses, which could lead to a more formal Knowlege Transfer Partnership (KTP KTP Knowledge Transfer Partnership
KTP Potassium Titanyl Phosphate
KTP Kartu Tanda Penduduk (Indonesian ID card)
KTP Kaj Tiel Plu (Esperanto: Et Cetera)
KTP KTiOPO4 ) between various departments and private enterprise.
"Working with these companies will allow us to identify what training or what investment they need - although we believe a lot of them will not need any investment," says Tim.
And that's because the majority of open source products are free.
IBM (International Business Machines Corporation, Armonk, NY, www.ibm.com) The world's largest computer company. IBM's product lines include the S/390 mainframes (zSeries), AS/400 midrange business systems (iSeries), RS/6000 workstations and servers (pSeries), Intel-based servers (xSeries) has called it the "commoditisation of service" and an entire new academic discipline known as services sciences - which is revealing fascinating new trends in business working - is growing up around it.
As a result, IBM has piled into the open source arena alongside Oracle and other major players.
"The division in IT businesses now is Microsoft on one side and everybody else on the other," says Alan.
"They are currently suffering from the angst of every hi-tech company. The thing that keeps Microsoft executives awake at night is not the current product, or even the next. It's the one after that."
And the prospect of that going head to head with equally capable, free rivals is a nightmare scenario. The only thing that prevented them from waking up in a cold sweat in the past was the sure knowledge that Microsoft's service support was superior. But now, even that is being undermined, says Alan.
"Companies think that if they don't have a Microsoft product they will not get the support they need. But that's just untrue. The reality is that if they have a problem with an open source product it will be patched a lot quicker because there's a whole community working on it together who want the respect of their peers.
It's the community itself that makes the software more robust."
Alan believes the emergence of an open source standard driven by demand from customers is their guarantee of a level of reliability.
"This is the era of the consumer," he says.
"People will not buy unless they can plug in to what they have got already."
Go to tinyurl.com/open4business to take part in the University of Teesside The University of Teesside, based in Middlesbrough, UK, has a student body of 20,685 students as of 2005. Recording rises in applications of 11.4%/2.5% for degree courses beginning in 2005/2006 respectively has given Teesside, for two years running, the highest such percentage Business School's questionnaire for companies interested in taking part in the open source research programme.
NEVER FEAR: Don't be afraid to use open sources on your computer - it could open up new worlds for your business, says Tim Brunton, business development manager at the University of Teesside's computer school, above