Problem-solvers hunt open-source solutions

Just about everyone, it seems, is on a mission

Here at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, it seems as though each of the thousands of attendees is on mission.

William Hughey, an independent Linux and open source developer, was here this week to explore his ideas about new applications for tablet PCs and to look at different hardware platforms on which to build camera software for laptops.

Hughey believes that open source applications are a key to the popularity of tablet PCs because open source can bring needed features and low-cost or free software. "On tablet PCs, I definitely see open source being behind them," he said. "Everyone sees the iPhone model, where you can sell your product to customers" for use on the device. "I see this for tablet PCs."

Adam Talbot, a Linux and Unix administrator with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, came to LinuxWorld looking for the next generation of high-level Linux-based system monitoring software for his organization, which runs Linux, Windows and Wind River's embedded VxWorks operating system.

"I'm always looking for the next (big) thing" in monitoring applications, Talbot said. "If I can find a solution that beats all of our stuff, costs less and is more applicable to our environment, then that's what I'm looking for."

Talbot now uses OpManager from AdventNet after moving away four months ago from competing applications from the Nagios open-source project and GroundWork Open Source. While neither of those products had major shortcomings, Talbot wants something that offers more monitoring services for various operating systems, including SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol).

"We're always looking for more for less," Talbot said.

Paul Williams, a consultant with a small consulting business, Projects & Solutions, was on the prowl for open-source and Linux products that could help his SMB customers boost their IT capabilities without spending more money. One of his prime businesses is serving small dental ofices, which often have important IT requirements related to costly high-tech dental equipment. Some customers use an open-source dental practice management application, OpenDental, from Open Dental Software, which integrates with OpenOffice and other applications.

"This niche works because small businesses like dental offices can't afford to have a full-time IT guy," Williams said. "They usually have five to 25 PCs in an office and they have to outsource it. Small businesses will spend US$500 on a PC and think they're done with it."

It's not just hardware. Many of his dental office clients will buy the Microsoft Office suite for their employees, then never realize how few of the expensive suite's features they ever use, he said. "Companies don't realize how much it can cost them to have Microsoft Office, especially if they are using it lightly. They may use Microsoft Word or Outlook, but they may only use 10 per cent of their capabillities. Why not use something that does what they need, for free?"

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