Making the most of open source

Paul Messias knows a thing or two about stretching a buck, and using open source software is one of his main techniques. As network engineer for the Needham Public Schools in Massachusetts, he is constantly looking to get more for less, given that his budget is lean at US$32,000 a year (notwithstanding the roughly US$300,000 earmarked for network gear for the town's high school, which is being renovated starting at the end of this year).

Messias oversees a mostly HP (via CXtec) and Apple Computer network that supports a few thousand students and staff across an inter-building fiber network and 100Mbps Ethernet network within buildings (the high school is getting 1Gbps to the desktop). Messias met recently with Executive News Editor Bob Brown and shared his views on making the most of open source.

Open source tools used

The biggies are: radmind, for software distribution and system maintenance; the MySQL database; and ASSP, a spam filter.

Major plusses and minuses of using open source tools

The big plus is cost -- that it's free. A lot of times there is really good support, both developer and user, sometimes even better than for commercial software. While this certainly isn't always the case, and may not be the norm, projects with a good community like that are ones that I gravitate toward.

Minuses can include more complex installation and configuration, more technical knowledge needed to use the tools and the chance that a project could become stagnant.

The best projects are the ones developed and maintained by people who actually need and use the product themselves as critical tools in their day-to-day work.

Where to find good open source tools

The big one is SourceForge.net.

Being a Mac person, I find references to the popular software that has specific Mac OS X versions listed at Mac-related news Web sites such as MacInTouch and MacNN.

How to find help/support

The better projects have mailing lists and or Web forums dedicated to them, with users and developers helping with support. For good projects, like radmind, this support is excellent.

On the significance of open source to Mac shops

I could theorize that with all the [mis]information out there about availability of Mac software, getting access to boatloads of open source stuff is something that the Mac advocates would want to support.

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