January 2018

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Open Source Is Not A Silver Bullet

We must focus on software solutions that solve real-world problems for the masses, rather than just creating cool software.
Anto Budiardjo
Anto Budiardjo,
Anka Labs

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Open source is great. After all, who doesn’t like free! That is the basic premise of open source software (OSS), software code created by dozens or hundreds of people that you can freely use, modify, contribute to as you wish. What’s not to like!

The BAS world has been awash lately with talk of OSS, which is an excellent sign of progress in the industry. In my view, this movement is a godsend for software geeks, the army of developers who thrive at creating and sharing “cool” and useful stuff. This trend is also significant for non-geeks (most of us), since OSS is, today, the foundation of applications that solve real business problems. The difference between these two views of OSS is subtle but essential to understanding this trend.

Let’s break this down a bit more.

The critical word driving the technology world today is “innovation.” SpaceX could not have done what they are doing 10 or 20 years ago since much of the things they are doing are based on things that had not been innovated back then. To a lesser extent, this is true for Henry Ford, who would not have been able to create his Model T were it not for past innovations such as the internal combustion engine. The important thing is that Innovation builds upon previous innovation, and here OSS is a great accelerant that dramatically speeds up this cycle, to the benefit of the industry mission.

OSS is in our everyday lives today. The chances are that you are reading this article using a web browser based on OSS (Chrome, Firefox, and Safari). Much of the Internet is operating on OSS components including Linux OS, Apache web servers, MySQL databases and hundreds of browser components used by thousands of websites around the Internet. Even Apple, known for a very user- and design-centric products is based at its core on many OSS components.

OSS today is a business imperative, not a geeky activity.

As previously mentioned, there are two faces of OSS. The first is how someone would use pieces of OSS to solve a software development problem. These are people who typically use their GitHub profile to communicate their expertise when seeking jobs and other professional outreach. The second, and the most significant group of people are those who focus on solving business problems using applications that may or may not contain OSS; it does not matter to these users as long as their issues are addressed. These are people who would more likely rely on their LinkedIn profile!

What I am arguing here is that for most people (the latter group of above), applications developed using OSS are just better, and the productivity from these class of products are leaps and bounds ahead of products created without OSS.

So, if OSS is not the silver bullet answer, what is?

It is my opinion that for the BAS industry to truly innovate and deliver on the promise of digital technology to improve buildings, we must focus on the needs of the LinkedIn class professionals, not just the GitHub army. We must focus on software solutions that solve real-world problems for the masses, rather than just creating cool software.

At Anka Labs, this is precisely our mission; we focus on creating great software for the broadest array of engineers, contractors, system integrators, system vendors, building owners and operators. Where possible, we use OSS, but our measure of success is that the products are used to solve users’ needs.


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