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Open Source Software at the Firm: Closer Than You Think

What could save law firms thousands of dollars every year? Well, cutting back on the recruitment gifts they send to people like me (:)), but more importantly using open source software.

What is "open source software" you ask? From The Free (Computing) Dictionary:

Refers to software that is created by a development community rather than a single vendor. Typically programmed by volunteers from many organizations, the source code of open source software is free and available to anyone who would like to use it or modify it for their own purposes.

Basically, it is software created by a dedicated and motivated group of people who put their time and effort into creating something that people will find useful. Because of this community approach, the software evolves rapidly with new features being added continually. One of the great benefits is that if there is not a feature that you need, you can program it yourself (or theoretically pay someone to do it for you).

Now, you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with law firms. I'm here to tell you. Instead of paying almost $300 for a copy of Windows XP, and over $400 for a copy of Office Professional 2003, the firm could outfit a computer with open source software for the low, low price of FREE. The firm could use a free version of Linux, combined with the awesome and daily-improving OpenOffice, and have everything Microsoft offers (wihout the headaches), for free. When looking at the bottom line, nothing saves money like free stuff.

While it is true that some companies sell distributions of open source software, so it is not technically free, you can almost always obtain a distribution of what you need for free. One example: a popular and rising database server, MySQL. Basically, you can download the actual software for free, but you can also pay money to obtain technical support. If your firm already has in-house IT guys, they can likely setup and administer a MySQL database without paid support by simply referring to the comprehensive user manuals and obtaining help from the active and encouraging development community.

So Andrew, why are you writing about this today? I'll answer that question for you too. Basically, there are organizations that approve and monitor standards for computing technology to help ensure that people's products harmonize nicely with one another. Just yesterday, they approved the OpenDocument format, which is used by one of my favorite programs, OpenOffice.

Thus, the open source world is getting one step closer to becoming more widely used and well-known. Before long, it may be at a firm near you.

Wow, it's time to catch my bus to take another final. 🙁 Do you have any thoughts about open source software at the firm? Either drop me a line or leave a comment to let everyone know your thoughts.

[tags]legal andrew, open source, law firm[/tags]

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