I still find open source challenging

For many years I really didn’t appreciate the possible benefits of using open source in the enterprise. I resisted the introduction of such applications on the basis that the potential risks – support costs, skills gaps – greatly outweighed the possible benefits. At the time, this was perhaps perfectly reasonable when working within a small team with limited skills and understanding of open source applications, and in an organisation that, with the exception of a few enthusiasts, was not aware of this movement toward widely available, community developed and maintained tools.

Times change. Since the introduction of Moodle (which replaced our proprietary Learnwise VLE), development of a web site built on the Apache / MySQL / PHP trio, and subsequent other applications developed in-house in a similar manner, open source is widespread in our organisation. There has definitely been a transitional phase for staff. For many years, support and maintenance of open source applications and services was limited to a select few like myself who enthusiastically invested the time and energy in understanding how to deploy, support and manage such tools. With a vast array of open source applications now available for the desktop, awareness is greater and therefore so is the level of interest. That’s not to say that we have mastered the techniques required to successfully and seamlessly integrate open source into our enterprise; far from it. We can certainly deliver top quality results with user friendly tools like Drupal, but the learning curve is steep and achieving high levels of skill in such applications may not be as readily achievable as packing your bags for a few nights and heading off to a Microsoft academy.

Maintaining quality of open source applications and content remains challenging. Open source moves fast; popular products are driven by release after release of new versions. Where security of critical services built upon open source is concerned, application of updates and fixes can become highly demanding. If due care and attention is not given to carefully managing your installation from the outset, unforeseen upgrade difficulties can quickly drain the resources of any support team.

There remains a gap in the provision of open source applications and services – education. For the enthusiast, it is both challenging and exciting to be pushing the boundaries of possibility with tools that even in recent years could only be dreamed of by all but the largest of organisations with a huge budget to support development costs. For those who do not regard open source technologies as much a personal interest and more ‘part of the job’, the results may be somewhat different. Without a diverse background in development, the application of clear and consistent principles, and the endless desire to experiment with these tools, good quality education is hard to access. Experience in open source, it seems, is usually acquired through an ongoing process of trial and error.