Anyone who has spent more than two minutes looking into creating a web presence has at least heard about Open Source Software, or OSS. Technologies like PHP, MySQL, and others have pushed this once obscure and often nerdy software model out of obscurity. Many of the greatest web innovations have been fueled by this movement.

What is Open Source Software? In short it's software that is developed, published, and maintained for the benefit of the general public. In its most common form, it is free to use, share with others, and change as you see fit. The most unique characteristic, and the one that gives OSS its title, is that anyone who wants to can look "under the hood" at the source code. Most commercially available software does not allow the general public to do that. If you want all the nerdy details, see this Wikipedia article.

So does open source have anything non-nerdy to offer? Sure! For starters there is Firefox, the second most popular browser out there, GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop, and many more. Even big boy Microsoft has introduced an "open" product: a new Office file format, called Open XML. While open source isn't yet as sexy as a Carlie Beck photo, it has gained some press over the last few years.

For non-nerds here is what Open Source Software can do for you.

  1. OSS can cost less. While you still have to pay for development and deployment, you can save some green by using OSS because you don't have to pay any software licensing fees.
  2. OSS is frequently on the cutting edge. In web circles, OSS is often either ahead of the curve or setting the standard. Just look at projects like jQuery, Drupal, and Google Chrome (yep, this new browser is an OSS project run by Google).
  3. OSS can be completely customized for your use. As long as you have the know how or the resources to hire someone who does, you can customize OSS to fit your specific needs.
  4. You don't need to re-invent the wheel. If there is an OSS solution that does what you want, why take the time to create another one? You can simply customize an OSS solution for your needs and cut back on development costs.
Interestingly enough, OSS and proprietary software can often work together nicely (such as the content manager Umbraco, which uses Microsoft's proprietary .NET framework). Because of this, you can often cherry pick solutions in such a way as to provide the most impact for the least pain.

Here at lifeBLUE Media we use the power of OSS alongside other solutions to augment and enhance our development efforts. This creates a better product for our customers and reduces development time for us. It's win-win.

lifeBLUE does not exclusively use OSS. We have some very talented .NET developers and we are not opposed to purchasing a proprietary solution if it is the best option. We use all the tools available to us to create customized solutions to our customers. As with everything, we choose OSS or other options in order to provide our customers with the best possible product.