Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another reason to choose Open Source

I cull my spamtrap about once a week. When going through it this last time I found an email from ComputerJobs.com. The subject line is "Worried about unlicensed software in your office? Relax." Now, I don't open 99% of the spam I delete, but this seemed to be an odd message to get from ComputerJobs.com. An animated graphic in the mail cycled through the message:

Worried about unlicensed software in your office?
Relax.
Report illegal software use confidentially.
You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000,000.00

Clicking on the graphic takes you to the website of the BSA. No, it's not the Boy Scouts of America... it's the other BSA: the Business Software Alliance. These are the folks that prosecute for software license violations.

Now, if you're using software illegally, you might think nobody's going to catch you at it. But then you see something like this and realize that a million bucks is a lot of incentive. Edna the Receptionist may not care a flying fig about unlicensed software, but a million bucks will pay off her house, send her kids to college, and keep her comfortable enough for the rest of her life that she can certainly "relax" and not worry about having driven you out of business and eliminated her own job along with yours.

Why would you want to take that kind of a chance? Now, the BSA wants you to license your illegal software. You know what I'm talking about: the copies of Windows 2000, Microsoft Office, Corel Draw, etc. that you've got from a friend of a friend, because you "really needed it now and it doesn't hurt anybody." Should they receive a call from Edna, the BSA will make sure that you license that software, plus legal fees, plus punitive fees and whatever they can get to make sure that you're not only in line, but you serve as an example to others.

And they are well within their rights to do that. You shouldn't have stolen, you shouldn't be using the software, and since you are, the BSA are legally entitled to enforce the interests of their members. You can't cry about it after the fact. And really they'd rather not prosecute you at all. That takes money and time, and they might not be successful, and much of what should go to the members goes to the lawyers instead. That's why they try so hard to nail you.

But there's a much better solution, which you'll never, ever see them suggest. Most of your office tasks are just as easily done with completely free, completely legal Open Source software. For instance, OpenOffice.org completely replaces Microsoft Office in my -- and many other -- offices. Likewise, The GIMP replaces Photoshop. The list is nearly endless. In some cases you may be able to replace entire Windows workstations with high-quality open source desktops like Ubuntu or openSUSE Linux. REALLY. And you don't need to worry if some of your users still need commercial products... using Open Source software drastically reduces the amount of money you have to spend on licensing overall. For instance, you can purchase Microsoft Office licenses for only the people who need special features of Office, and distribute free OpenOffice.org software for the rest.

I'd estimate I've saved thousands simply by switching to Open Source software. I keep a list of software recommendations (based on software I use [PDF]), but a new website called Open Source Alternatives (http://www.osalt.com) is a much broader (and more frequently updated) list. And it's cross-referenced, so you can search for what you use and find out what replaces it. If you've got any eye toward mitigating your risk at all, you'll definitely want to check it out.

So here's how the BSA's ad looks to me:

Worried about unlicensed software in your office?
No.

Relax.
I am soooo relaxed.

Report illegal software use confidentially.
Uh... what illegal software?

You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000,000.00
Guess I'll have to buy a lottery ticket instead. Or maybe work.

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