Open-source and water. Same or different?


By: Marijn

July 18, 2017 12:28 pm





Quite frequently I get questions from people around me about how open-source software differs from proprietary software. The formal answer is that with open-source the source code is owned by no one and available to everyone, while proprietary software vendors keep the code of the program secret. However, I have found this answer does not always offer sufficient clarity.

Hence, I often compare open-source software to water. This explanation seems much more effective. Water is a utility and thus attainable for everyone. It’s the same when cloud computing is compared to electricity, which is also a utility. In the early days, each company made its own electricity. Later it appeared to be more useful to connect to the grid. In the early computing days every company had its own server park, but now most companies use the server parks of third parties (better known as cloud providers).

Water belongs to all, it’s freely available for and can be used by everyone. Just like – you probably guessed- open-source software. There are different sorts types of water and different applications for it: drinking water, process water, water used for fire putting out fires, bathing water and so on. Each type of water has its own characteristics. And in much the same way, there are different open-source software systems.

You can get started by making open-source programs suitable for your own needs. You can also go to a company that has already made the software Enterprise ready and offers additional services on top. You can drill a well (with the right permits) and pump up your own water, but you can also get a subscription to a water supplier who treats the water before consumption, feeds it through a grid and ensures delivery. Just like open-source software.

Usually, this answer clarifies much more than when I use IT-terminology. Hope it’s clear for you too! But if you would like to have a more extensive chat with me on this, or if you’d like to know more about the possibilities that open-source can do for you and/or your organization feel free to contact me. I am more than willing to take this further with you.

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Categories: Benelux, SUSE News

Disclaimer: As with everything else in the SUSE Blog, this content is definitely not supported by SUSE (so don't even think of calling Support if you try something and it blows up).  It was contributed by a community member and is published "as is." It seems to have worked for at least one person, and might work for you. But please be sure to test, test, test before you do anything drastic with it.


  1. By:Knurpht

    Nice. ‘open source’ seen from a commodity perspective. I like that.

  2. By:Nutster

    And then are the guys whose take the city water, filter it, ozonate it (to give it a shelf life because they removed all the chlorine compounds), put it in bottles and sell it to you. It is basically the same thing as the open source software, but they are charging you a huge amount of money for this product, compared to pretty much the same water that is much cheaper. This is proprietary software.

    Then there are the people who try to scare you that the low-cost water is dangerous. “There is poison in the water!” (Yeah, it keeps the water safe to drink and reduces the risk of tooth decay, but at these levels it is not going to hurt you. You use more chlorine in your stomach to digest it anyway.) These are the scaremongers that open-source is no good because there is not enough money going into the project to keep it going and that there is no one responsible to make sure bugs are fixed quickly.

    Then there are the guys who just try to confuse the matter. Take a look at the DHMO website for an example. Too bad some people take this seriously. This sounds like the fear-mongers that never want to try anything new and are afraid this software will not work and they won’t be able to figure out how to get it working again, even though they are willing to trust proprietary software that is equally (or more) buggy. They figure this kind of thing must be inherently broken from the start, not realizing that there is lots of quality free-ware and open source projects out there and that you are using such every day on your Mac and every time you do a Google search.

    Linux is like sex. Until you have tried it, you do not understand what all the fuss is about. After you have tried it, you wonder how you ever got along without it.

  3. By:jmlockard

    If you talk to the people of Flint Michigan, you’ll find that water does not belong to the people and water is not freely available.

    If you talk with people, such as the CEO of Nestle, you’ll find they don’t believe that water is a basic human right and that water supply should absolutely be privatized.