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Linux and Open Source: How They Affect HR Organizations

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Linux and other open source applications are finding increasing acceptance in the global marketplace in small and large companies alike. Statistics on the growth of a few open source programs — including Apache (a webserver), Linux (an operating sytem), FreeBSD (an operating system), and PostgreSQL (a database server) — demonstrate this convincingly. In this article, we'll consider why open source is growing so fast, and what it means to you, the leader in HR.

Apache — On the Warpath

Apache is a free open source webserver that runs on most operating systems. The following graph (Apache is shown in blue) illustrates how it has been taking market share from Microsoft’s webserver (in red) and others since 1995.

It’s not as though Microsoft hasn’t tried to take over this market, but technologists have found Apache to be easier to implement, more secure, and more reliable than Microsoft’s product or those of other competitors in the marketplace. Apache is also easier to repair when there are problems (after all, you have the source code) and, best of all, it’s free.

Operating Systems — Linux and FreeBSD

The largest and most successful software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers have all chosen free open source operating systems such as Linux or FreeBSD as their primary platforms for serving their high-performance websites.

Large, Successful SaaS Providers’ Choice of Operating Systems CRM — Sales Linux and FreeBSD Recruiting Linux Timesheets Linux CRM — Support Linux ERP Linux

These companies absolutely cannot afford downtime, and they have plenty of money, so they aren’t choosing Linux because it’s free.

Red Hat is a company that sells services and support for the Linux operating system. They have annual sales of $257 million and their five-year stock chart shows substantial growth.

How does a company that gives away its products show this kind of revenue growth? Essentially, they sell support and other services to large enterprises who are converting from Windows and Unix servers to Linux.

Apple Computer released OS X a few years ago, which is based on the FreeBSD operating system. If you have a Mac, you have a free open source operating system under the hood. Apple’s five-year stock chart is even more impressive than Red Hat’s, although surely the iPod has something to do with that. Companies like Apple Computer and Red Hat that are embracing open source in one way or another are succeeding in the marketplace because of it.

As for the future, Linux is looking strong. Advisory services predict that Linux’s market share of the server market will grow from 19 to 26 percent by 2010. And Linux will have the strongest relative growth of any server operating system, including server operating systems from Microsoft. Shipments will increase from 1.4 million units in 2005 to 2.4 million in 2010. Revenue will grow to $11.5 billion by 2010.

A Free Database Server?

PostgreSQL is an open source database server that had 1.2 million downloads in 2005 alone and has recently received commercial support from Pervasive Software (NasdaqNM:PVSW), the original makers of Btrieve. PostgreSQL is a free object-relational database. It offers an alternative to proprietary systems such as Oracle, Sybase, IBM’s DB2, and Microsoft’s SQL Server. Similar to other open source projects such as Apache and Linux, PostgreSQL is not controlled by any single company, but instead relies on a global community of developers and companies to develop it.

PostgreSQL is very stable and bug-free. Case in point: thousands of Journyx Timesheet customers have used PostgreSQL for more than nine years with zero incidences of data corruption.

Why the Open Source Movement Is So Powerful

Software is ultimately composed of congealed ideas, so ideas are very important in the minds of software developers. The key to market power in the software industry lies in the minds of developers. Fashion plays a role; some ideas are fashionable and some are not. The idea, or philosophy, of open source is powerful, frictionless, and seductive. And like the “little black dress” in the clothing world, open source may just stay fashionable forever.

Open source software (OSS) is software which permits the use and modification of its source code by anyone. By definition, it has certain characteristics:
  • Free redistribution: The software can be freely given away or sold. This makes for frictionless idea transmission.

  • Source code: The source code must either be included or freely obtainable.

  • Derived works: Redistribution of modifications must be allowed.
Apache is an open source webserver. PostgreSQL is an open source database server. Linux and FreeBSD are open source operating systems. There are many other examples, from applications to infrastructure. The philosophy associated with the term “open source” emphasizes collaborative development. This philosophy tends to quickly gain developer mindshare. Microsoft is visibly concerned about the upsurge in OSS.

Mistakenly released internal Microsoft emails provide obvious evidence of Microsoft’s concern: “OSS poses a direct, short-term revenue and platform threat to Microsoft, particularly in server space. Additionally, the intrinsic parallelism and free idea exchange in OSS has benefits that are not replicable with our current licensing model and therefore present a long-term developer mindshare threat.”

OSS developers benefit from a reduction in the friction-to-idea exchange that commercial enterprises engender through the use of lawyers, contracts, and payments. They experiment with new tools immediately instead of paying for legally licensed access to technologies.

OSS is winning the minds of developers — and that is precious real estate.

How Human Resources Organizations Can Use Open Source Today

Rolling out Linux in your company can confer advantages. Namely, it’s cheap, fast, and is less prone to worms and viruses. The most common uses for Linux today in small businesses are server-based. Linux machines make good file servers, print servers, database servers, and webservers. OSS has been more successful so far in infrastructure software than in applications software. Also there are certain HR applications, like web-based timesheet software, that can turn your Linux machine into a web timesheet server at little cost.

File and Print Servers

A file server differs from a desktop computer in that it is dedicated to storing files in a centralized location while permitting network access. By having a file server, users can save work and have access to files without having to carry around a disk. Access privileges can be restricted by file or directory, while a centralized location means one place to backup all files. This enables much easier, more auditable, more secure, and more reliable backups than retaining files on many PCs in a network.

And this is the most common type of server in most businesses. Linux works great as a network file server. Linux includes software called Samba that allows files on the server to be viewed and edited on any Windows PC or Macintosh computer. Samba is faster and more secure than the native file sharing services available on Microsoft Windows machines, and you can connect to shares on the Linux file server just as you would on your Windows file server. Everything will look the same, and there are no per-user licenses required.

My experience has shown that Linux will perform better as a file server than Windows, even when Linux is on older, slower hardware. Hardware resources center on processing user requests instead of running the operating system.

The same Samba technology that enables file service on Linux and FreeBSD also enables print service.

Database and Web Service

Database servers can be constructed using PostgreSQL or other free database engines. Connect them to Apache with Python, PHP, or other languages, and you have your own web application environment. This is how Journyx got started — as a web project accounting application that was built on PostgreSQL, Apache, Python, and Linux.

What to Watch Out For

Many people have more skills in Windows than in Linux, and this is particularly true in HR departments. Therefore, investment in learning may be steeper initially in OSS than in Windows. If you are considering rolling out OSS technologies in your company, keep in mind the skill levels of the people in the company regarding this kind of technology.

If you are currently using any of the on-demand SaaS applications like Journyx or, you are already using OSS technologies.

With the growth in the OSS marketplace, led by Linux, more and more companies will be using OSS as a portion of their IT infrastructure, particularly in the arena of servers. As more applications become web-based, there will be less and less reason for people to use Windows or Macintosh desktop computers. Companies like and Writely (just acquired by Google) provide traditional applications akin to Excel and Word through a web-browser interface. Windows isn’t going away any time soon, but its days are numbered. OSS is shrinking Windows’ lifetime for servers, and eventually it may do so for desktop machines as well. And that should provide interesting developments for all of us to watch.

About the Author

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx (, a provider of web-based software located in Austin, Texas, that tracks time and project accounting solutions to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. Journyx has thousands of customers worldwide and is the first and only company to establish Per Person/Per Project Profitability (P5), a proprietary process that enables customers to gather and analyze information to discover profit opportunities. In 1997, Curt created the world’s first Internet-based timesheet application — the foundation for the current Journyx product offering. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource.
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