Open source software is a better and cheaper solution for many applications than proprietary software, says Ben Reytblat, CEO of Cost Effective Development, or CEDev. If you aren’t using open source software on both your home and business computers, he believes you are paying too much and getting too little.

Reytblat presents "Open Source Software: What’s Possible?" on Wednesday, March 19, at 4 p.m. at the Commercialization Center in North Brunswick. Sponsored by the New Jersey Technology Council, additional speakers are Mike Sole, director of technology for the Gold Group, and Andy Astor, CEO of EnterpriseDB Corporation. Cost: $60. Register online at www.NJTC.org.

Many people are unclear about open source software, what it is, where it can be purchased, and how it differs from proprietary software. The first misconception that many people have is that open source software is free. While some applications can be downloaded for free, many other open source programs do have a cost, explains Reytblat. However, most open source programs do cost less than similar proprietary products.

The difference. In open source products the underlying source code that runs the program is available to the user. This permits the user to work to improve and make changes to the software. The difference, Reytblat explains, is that proprietary software is "like buying something that advertises it has a secret sauce. No one except the manufacturer knows exactly what is in it." Open source software, on the other hand, "is like sauce that comes with the recipe. The person who sells it is sharing grandma’s secret recipe with the world."

Reytblat isn’t just a fan of open source software, he has developed a business that helps other companies integrate the software into their own computer systems. CEDev, on 87 Saratoga Drive in Princeton Junction, consults with a wide variety of businesses. "We work with small to medium companies that need a little help taking the next step in reducing their IT budget," he says.

That next step often includes changing to open source software or "integrating and operating custom and semi-custom applications." Because there is such a wide variety of applications available in this type of software, it can be used by almost any industry, he says. In the past few years CEDev’s clients have included pharmaceutical support and telecom companies as well as engineering, retail, and publishing firms.

Reytblat first became interested in computers as a math major at the University of Illinois, where he graduated in 1980. After graduation he went to work for AT&T and obtained his master’s degree in computer science from Rutgers in 1986.

Over the years he has worked in IT for both Soloman Brothers and Verizon, and before founding CEDev, he was the CEO of Quadrix Solutions, a technology firm based in Piscataway. Portions of the company were sold to a California firm in 2003, and at that time, Reytblat kept the software division, developing it into CEDev. In addition to his involvement in the IT industry, he is also interested in the space industry. He delivered a paper on the subject at the 2006 International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles.

In the system. You may be using open source software on your computer right now without realizing that it differs in any way from proprietary software. Some of the more familiar open source names are Linux, Mozilla and Firefox.

Open source software is available for "almost any" application, says Reytblat, including word processing, spreadsheets, business accounting and inventory programs, and many graphics programs. He claims it is almost always compatible with comparable proprietary programs. "I bought my last Microsoft Office Suite in 2000. I’ve been using open source software since about 2004. It isn’t 100 percent compatible with Windows, but then Windows isn’t 100 percent compatible with Windows."

Open source programs can also be found for specialized technical applications, and there is also a number of open source programs available for home use, including many excellent children’s learning programs. "There are programs for reading, writing, geography, chess – you name it, it’s out there," says Reytblat.

Why use OSS? "When I say that open source software is better I don’t mean it in the same sense that people who are marketing something usually do," says Reytblat. "Most marketers define better as having more features. In software a lot of times that means a spreadsheet program or word processing program that is designed to be used by everyone from a single home office to a multi-national corporation. No one person ever uses more than a few of the features on the software. They don’t understand it and they don’t need it," he says.

Instead of attempting to be all things to all people, open source software is often more targeted, with "adequate features," which he describes as the features that most people will need for a program rather than all the bells and whistles. "Open source software has more stability and more dependability," he adds.

"For example, when I switched my computers to Linux I threw away all of the anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-this and anti-that, that clogs a machine and slows it down. Linux doesn’t need it. I’ve never had a break-in on my computer because with Linux it is more secure."

How it is developed. Open source software is more than just a product, it is a community, explains Reytblat. Because the coding can be read by any user, anyone who has an idea how to make the program better can try it. Since many of the more well-known OSS products have many variations, "maintainers" can execute the work while developers contribute to the project. A project can involve dozens of people working throughout the world, says Reytblat.

How to get some. Many open source applications can be downloaded from the Internet, "and often with just a couple of clicks of the mouse. It is generally easier to install than proprietary software," says Reytblat. For someone who wants to explore what is available, he recommends checking reviews on websites such as www.openoffice.org.

"Open source software does a lot of good things. It’s inexpensive, shared, and creates alternatives to monopolistic proprietary software," says Reytblat. "It’s is not the answer to everything, but it is the answer to a lot."

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