Increasingly Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) is being seen as a cost effective solution, more so in entrepreneurships looking for cost effective deployments for their business ideas. Open Source Software is a given among entrepreneurs from technology backgrounds, but among the rest, entrepreneurs in Finance, Agriculture, and Education among other disciplines, OSS may not be as well known vis-à-vis its potential and deployment possibilities.
The implications of this can be serious for the success of an entrepreneurship. Financials, a critical component of any entrepreneurship, is the first to be impacted, with costs going up significantly.
Power Of Ideas spoke with Brajeshwar for insights into FOSS and the benefits to be had for the entrepreneur in adopting FOSS. What intrigued me was when Brajeshwar mentioned that his start-up, oCricket, was based entirely on FOSS, implying that except for the development effort there was no other cost involved.
Power Of Ideas: What potential do you see Open Source hold for startups in the prevailing Economic situation? Examples you can state of startups that used Open Source and the kind of cost savings that resulted?
Brajeshwar: Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) holds a lot of potential for startups irrespective of the economic situation, since it's much more about FOSS being "tweak-friendly" than FOSS being "cheap". A startup attempting to build a product to challenge market leaders would mean having to push the boundaries of software to be able to build something which is twice as fast but at half the cost. It would involve either building something awesome from scratch or taking something which is great (and FOSS) and taking it apart and tweaking its parts to squeeze out the last ounce of performance. That also means leveraging on the plethora of existing FOSS projects and building on top of them. FOSS empowers you to do that.
Having said that I must add that FOSS also has a distinct economic advantage, especially relevant in these times of Economic Depression. Using cutting-edge technology and not having to pay any license fees is "good" for a startup.
Examples of successful startups abound and they don’t come any more famous than Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, all of which run entirely on Open Source Software. Most successful startups (9 of 10) will have used Open Source. Perhaps the only successful startup/website that uses MS product .NET is StackOverflow.com.
Power Of Ideas: What kind of startups can best leverage Open Source software, and what kind of startups cannot?
Brajeshwar: I think the best kind of startups that can really benefit from FOSS are the technical, web-service oriented ones. They need to be 'technical' since you need some kind of a tech-team with people who really can bend and twist the software to do your bidding. Web oriented startups will also benefit since the Web as a whole is one platform and FOSS really dominates the scene with numerous web frameworks, libraries, and servers of excellent pedigree. You can really push the envelope with a fast, easy to maintain, website built on top of FOSS tools and technologies.
On the other hand, startups which develop some kind of desktop or niche software may not be able to benefit from FOSS as much since the desktop market is still dominated by Microsoft Windows (TM) and you can hardly use much FOSS technology to built applications on top of a proprietary platform (though a sizeable number of options certainly exist today). Similarly if you are developing something for a niche market (iPhone applications, for example) you don't really get to choose the platform as those are dictated by the platform itself.
Power Of Ideas: Do you see entrepreneurs in India taking to Open Source sufficiently enough? If not any reasons you can assign as to why they don't?
Brajeshwar: They slowly are, but that mostly because many think it's better because it's free and not because it's simply better. The main reason behind that being the fact that a FOSS ecosystem doesn't exist and India and people are mostly ignorant about the alternatives. Also the technical know-how among the majority in the Indian IT industry is not upto the International level. But things are changing slowly though. There are many initiatives being taken up by various organisations to improve the situation and it will improve with time.
Many large corporations like SUN have a good initiative going called the SUN Startup Essential. They even respond to your technical questions if you've technical problems. Of course, you get discounted Hardware from them and most of their softwares are free anyway. Check out Startup Essentials at Sun.
Power Of Ideas: What Open Source software would you suggest that startups take a look at?
Brajeshwar: It depends on the type of startup really, but off the top of my head I can name the following FOSS applications which are considered to be among the best in the world in their own categories:
- Django (for Python)
- Ruby on Rails (for Ruby)
- CakePHP (for PHP)
Content Management Systems
User Interface / Browser Programming
... and may more
Power Of Ideas: In oCricket did you use Open Source yourself? (oCricket is Brajeshwar’s startup)
Brajeshwar: oCricket is built on top of 100% Free and Open Source Software.
Power Of Ideas: With OpenMoko Freerunner what kind of possibilities do you see in mobile applications that entrepreneurs can take up, now that it is open for Open Source development.
Brajeshwar: More than the OpenMoko Freerunner, I think Google's Andriod platform holds more promise. Android is not tied to any particular mobile hardware and can be ported to almost any modern handset. Large companies like Motorola have already decided to slowly move to the
Android platform. Android is even getting ported to the OpenMoko hardware as we speak. So yes, the future is very exciting for the whole mobile platform. The kind of applications that one can build is endless; in short, it's pretty much everything. People are building tonnes of applications for the Apple iPhone ranging from games to high-precision medical applications. I don't see why the same can't be done on the OpenMoko or the Android platform.
Power Of Ideas: Do you consider your startup, oCricket, as a Media startup? If yes, what other kinds of Media startups do you feel India needs?
Brajeshwar: Well, it’s the environment that we're in that can eventually mark us as a Media Startup. Nonetheless, we're are very technology oriented and will use technology to the best we can to make things easier and useful to our users. Consider it an endeavor to marry Media and Technology.
Bollywood is definitely another sector that can be tapped and nurtured. And even the TV (Video) paradigm is something so massive that there is huge potential and India is just waking up to that. We can learn from the likes of iTunes, Netflix and model something relevant and perhaps even competitive to them.
Power Of Ideas: Can entrepreneurs really make a difference to the country as a whole without them addressing the diversity of languages?
Brajeshwar: For mobile applications languages will come into play as a factor affecting reach. So what lessons do these hold vis-a-vis them presenting opportunities for Open Source development.
Diversity in language and culture is a thing of beauty and is something which cannot just be addressed with mere solution. Technology can be just one of the many drivers for unification in this diversity. So, instead of trying to tie them up first and apply, why not start off and let it unite on its own.
Even for the mobile sector, one solution won't fit all. I would love if someone comes up with a flawless way to convert English to a vernacular language and vice-versa in a realm like SMS.
Brajeshwar: One should keep in mind that Open Source is just the beginning to successful Startups, saving money and making them economical. There are lot to being a successful Startup and an entrepreneur should not forget that. Open Source is just a means to an end.
Brajeshwar blogs at Brajeshwar.com.