During my consultations with end-user companies around the world, one of the most common topics of conversations today is that of open source. Everyone wants to know whether open source software is "ready," if it really provides a cheap alternative to endlessly paying software vendors, and what the drawbacks are. This article looks at these issues and others surrounding the controversial area of open source software.

The first problem is to decide what most people mean when they refer to open source software. There are various bodies and definitions already existing in the marketplace, but the common layman's view of open source is "free." This is not an unreasonable point of view - indeed, to many the concept is an extension of the shareware phenomenon that sprang up with the ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet. Software was made freely available by its author, others would modify or extend it, and the entire user community benefited.

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