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MSBM CONFERENCE 2015: New focus on open source software for SMEs

Published:Friday | January 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson

Free and open software services has the potential to radically alter the use of proprietary software such as Microsoft products into which regional governments are locked into partnership agreements and which cost taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

This, according to Gary Campbell, the director of technology in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining and doctoral student at the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM)at the University of the West Indies (UWI), who is conducting research to help guide public policy on software use.

Dean of the UWI Faculty of Social Sciences, Professor Evan Duggan, said the study was of tremendous value for the Government, which has been spending millions annually for services from software companies - an observation shared by Professor David Storey of the University of Sussex, England.

"Firms and governments alike require frameworks and tools that can help them to reduce the cost of software and contribute to the value chain using free and open software," Campbell suggested at the inaugural MSBM conference on business and management at the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, Montego Bay, on Wednesday.

"These software, which are available free of cost, and the source code, meaning the programmes themselves, are readily available for modification which one can take and use as against, say, proprietary software such as Microsoft products, which you have to pay for and pay licence fees," Campbell explained in an interview with the Financial Gleaner.

"There seems to be a lack of awareness of this, for several reasons. So, what happens is that instead of using these tools, you'll find that firms and individuals alike will go and purchase Microsoft products instead of open-source products, which can do the same things," he said.

Open-source products are available for free download, and can accomplish the same tasks as Microsoft Office products.

Campbell said open-source software presents huge opportunities for small businesses that sometimes struggle to find funding to finance ventures, and could save the Government millions in fees paid for proprietary products each year.

He said he was studying the issue partly with a view to building and sharing awareness about the significance of open-source software.

"If I purchase a computer, I'll have to ensure that I somehow pay the vendor for Microsoft Office, but with open office one can go online and download it. There, I have a word processor, I have a spreadsheet, I have a presentation tool right at my fingertips. And it can do pretty much the same thing that Microsoft Office can do and I wouldn't have to pay anything at all," he said.

The three-day MSBM conference ends today.