Peter Batty on Open Source vs. Closed Source

by Matt Ball on September 13, 2011

Peter Batty provided the introductory talk for a well attended Introduction to Geospatial Open Source workshop today at the FOSS4G event. Batty is the chair of this year’s conference, yet said that he feels he’s in the peaceful neutral zone where he uses both open and closed source software, where there are good and bad software on both sides. People are wary of open source, because they don’t know much about it.

Peter began his own exploration of pen source when he embarked on a spatial networking start-up. This work forced him to check out the FOSS4G event in Victoria in 2007, specifically to look at PostGIS. Access to the free software has an enormous impact on the start-ups based on the low overhead.

Batty’s current work on Ubisense MyWorld originally began with Google Maps and Google App Engine, but the licensing and security of the environment didn’t work well for customer requirements. Instead the solution was ported to PostGIS and MapFish (for a restful API for Web Mapping), providing the flexibility to run on both the cloud and in a hosted environment. The latest iteration has been tuned to work offline in order to meet fieldwork demands of customers, using OpenLayers and OpenStreetMap.

More and more open source tools meet the functionality requirements, with the added benefit of being free. Software cost certainly isn’t the only consideration, with implementation costs a factor. But without licensing fees and maintenance support, and with added flexibility of source code access, there can be significant savings here. The issue of support has been a consideration, but now there are several open source companies that provide packaged software and support. The added benefit of open source is the ability to quickly enhance the core software by applying your own coding resources or by hiring skilled developers.

Legal terms and predictability are two issues that Peter has faced in his career. The legal licensing of the Google stack was an issue as outlined above, and he has seen solutions pulled from the market by vendors despite an installed customer base.

More and more we’re seeing hybrid scenarios where open source and closed source software work side by side. The take away is not to choose closed or open source, but to choose for functionality, flexibility, stability, cost, support, and predictability.

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