Since I started working with the internet back in 2001, I have used open source software to create. Indeed, back then open source software was the only opportunity to create online for a lot of people. I was in a Zimbabwean city called Gweru, and software piracy then was not as rampant as it the case now.
Using genuine commercial software was not as uncommon. Quite a higher percentage of people bought genuine copies of their Adobe Photoshop, their Corel, SQL Server, NT Server and Windows OS. Microsoft Office even. One big reason of course is that computer usage was equally not as uncommon as it is now! Freely downloading and using open source software therefore was nothing short of a big deal. Learning that I could just download MySQL, PHP and Apache and start creating on the internet was a religious experience! The opportunities were clear!
Today, I use open source software for pretty much all the work I do online. Our blog here runs on WordPress. We designed the theme and a few plugins, but other than that it’s purely WordPress at work here!
We have benefited so much from Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that for every project we’ve implemented using an open source package the “Proudly Powered by NameOfProject” credit is left visible somewhere. This way, a bit is contributed to spreading word about the project.
I say all this because at the recent Startup Challenge qualifiers we held, I noticed a few startups that are using open source tools trying to hide this. Some pretending they wrote all the code from scratch. Pressed to say how much of the code was theirs and how much was open source, some just felt embarrassed to say and tried dodging the question.
I don’t know if it’s a sign of lack of innovation locally or it’s just people pushing their luck trying to get credit for work they didn’t do. Whatever it is, I wish we didn’t look at open source the way we do: just some free code that we try to keep secret to avoid others benefiting as freely as we have.
FOSS can be used to create successful businesses. The business is what we do with the code and not the code itself. Spreading the word about the tools we use will only push us to be innovative and compete with a unique product & service offering. More than anything, I wish we would start building projects we can open source too and give back to the community.