I just opened a small firm and we use three computers for our work. A friend told me that if we use “open source” programs we don’t have to pay royalties to anyone and we are within the law on copyright. Is it true, and if yes, where can we find these programs?

The question of the open source is more complex than it has been described even though there is some truth in these statements. With the definition of “open source” we indicate those programs distributed with the “open” code, meaning the source code that can be read and eventually improved by anyone. A programme of this kind normally gets distributed free of charge, but it does not necessarily have to be that way: in fact there can be open programmes distributed with a payment. One of the most classic examples of free of charge “open source” programmes is Linux, that can be installed without spending anything, or Red Hat, which can be bought on CD ROM, but at very low prices compared to other programmes such as Windows.

Therefore, it is true that you can opt to use programmes at no cost like open source and save on the high licensing costs of Microsoft and it is also true that these products are readily available on Internet and in the shops selling packages, like Red Hat, at extremely low prices; however, who picks such solution must bear in mind two important factors: first, that not all operating programmes, like Word, can function on Linux; second, that few persons know how to use them. Unfortunately, up to date, it is estimated that the saving achieved with this kind of programmes entails an increase of expenses in the staff, which has to be taught how to use them. To this you must add that, if a firm, for working purpose, has to exchange a document written with a Linux programme with that of another firm working with Word, more than likely this last one would not be able to read it. In substance, the open source programmes represent a great opportunity, but still a little bit in the “niche”, so much so that there are studies evaluating their impact and finding practical solutions to render them usable.