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Friday, 01 December 2006 05:24

FOSS keeps us connected

Visbility is everything these days. Even if you're not really doing much, you can easily give the impression of running the show.

In many ways, the opposite is the case with free and open source software - in many businesses, crucial operations would not be possible without FOSS. Yet it is the proprietary applications, with all their eye candy, that appear to be the stars of the show.

Take internet access, for example. High-speed access is today seen as vital to business prospects. Many daily tasks can be easily carried out online if one were able to access what was needed. Yet little thought is given to the way in which we get access to the internet.

The internet was built on open standards and today it is no different, despite the efforts of many companies to subvert them. Commercial ISPs depend on FOSS because it doesn't make sense to go any other route.

What would be the average individual's reaction to an operating system that on booting up displays the message: "--- comes with absolutely no warranty, to the extent permitted by applicable law"? Yet this operating system, GNU/Linux, is the one that is in wide use across the ISP industry.

Take the case of Australia's third largest ISP, iiNet, for example. All their servers run Debian. Ben Turner, operations manager, says that after using Red Hat for a while, they switched to Debian as they found the updating process easier. The company's network operations and surveillance centre also runs the same operating system.

With five million incoming emails to handle a month, Turner entrusts that task to qmail, a free mail transport agent. "Exchange won't cut it," says the company's chief technical officer, Greg Bader.

Open source packages such as Apache, Nagios - a host, service and network monitoring program - perl, courier IMAP, openLDAP and MySQL are others which are vital to the business.

Within the office, Windows is used. "The corporate network is entirely Windows," says Bader. And there are other areas where commercial offerings are used - for example, the open source package SpamAssassin was thrown out in favour of a proprietary solution. Turner says there was too much manual work involved in keeping SpamAssassin up-to-date.

But it's not just GNU/Linux that keeps the internet going. The BSDs - FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD - are prominently represented when one looks at websites worldwide in terms of uptime. Sun's Solaris operating system, the source for which is now available, is another that is popular with serious network admins.

In developing countries, there are even more compelling reason for using FOSS when it comes to providing internet access. The cost factor simply overrides everything else.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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