One evening at the Enugu State Chapter Secretariat of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, after the usual report readings and hearings, we received a talk from one of our own. It was my first attendance since I registered with the Chapter and my second since graduation – that was a long time ago. I found it interesting that Arc. Ikechukwu Ifeanacho, a friend — who is also the ICT Coordinator for the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus — was giving this talk. I found it more intriguing that he presented ‘Open-Source tools’ for use in Architectural Practice. He beat me to it … again! The presentation was titled: Enhancing Architectural Practice with Information and Communication Technology. It all happened on the 15th day of July 2010.
Its nearly a year after that and I’ve been scheduled to present a follow-up to his talk. Yeah, I know, that’s a lot of time-lapse for a follow-up but that’s how it is. In two days time, on the 19th of May 2011, the heat will be on during the Technical Session, as I do my best to convince my colleagues that Open-Source Software is adequate for Nigerian AEC professionals. The presentation is titled: Linux for Nigerian AEC Industry. My predecessor is an Ubuntu guy so its not surprising he showcased examples using that Distribution. I am a Fedora Guy, and I will be showcasing my examples on Fedora (Laughlin), better still, media will exchange hands. His was broad because ICT is broad, mine is narrower as I will focus on Linux and other hosted open-source tools.
It has taken three years to gather the facts from a personal research geared towards cutting down costs for setting up an office – my office. It had to be this way after paying for four ‘M$-Windoze‘ licenses (make that five … I have one bundled with my laptop). Guess what? Two of those are now threatened with EOL support and I’m not done fighting viruses and blue screens of death! How about that? Sceptical as I was back then, I had to confirm another friend’s advice that Linux might be what I needed to reduce expenses and still satisfy clients. Its a small business after all … a new one draining a humble salary at that. Now I’m glad to share my findings. Its true … Linux rocks. You know I can’t put it that way in-front of the ‘Fellows’ of the Institute. Those people are serious and they put up interesting arguments.
So apart from the usual preambles – defining open-source, introducing OS’s, clarifying distributions, and proffering open-source and free Linux hosted alternatives to the usual software repertoire — here are the Linux Benefits I plan to sell:
1. Legal Benefits:
One senior colleague described how he dodged confrontation in Abuja when he went to present his work for commissioning. He said he was sure those tailing him were Autodesk representatives and he didn’t want to be embarrassed by one question: ‘What software did you use for your work?’ Apparently, it was done with a pirated version of their propriety software. He swore to buy the original thing afterwards. Well, with open-source and free tools, no one needs to fear such questions.
2. Cost Benefits:
Some professionals – like me — may find the propriety path a little challenging. From OS to application, propriety means money and if you believe in humble beginnings and have a strong sense of rights-and-wrongs, you would agree that free and efficient open-source tools are very attractive. Hey! If your firm is reeling in a lot and you enjoy spending … you’re still free to go beyond window-shopping and free trials. Ha! Did you know that some businesses survive on free-trials? At the expiration of the trial period some fast-guys perform a full re-installation of their gear or surf for crack-ware and … the show continues. I strongly believe creativity should be rewarded and not stolen. Piracy is not an option. At this point, I plan to show a cost comparison chart to illuminate what the Architect saves by going for open-source and free tools. Believe me, its much.
3. Project Adaptation & Customization Benefits
There are different entry points for users to take advantage of software and apply them in solving problems. (1) Design & Concept Stage (2) Source Stage (3) API stage (4) Top level, or the usual stage. With closed-source solutions stages (1) and (2) are mostly inaccessible. The product has been conceived, designed and coded, … and the user is not allowed to change anything except through feature and support requests. With open-source tools everything is accessible to a great extent. For instance, FreeCAD is at an early stage of BIM implementation, this is a good time to step in and contribute ideas, code, patches to make the product suitable the Nigerian/International AEC scenario … OR … wait for a release and deal with the provided API and GUI.
4. The ‘Awareness’ Benefits:
With open-source applications the professional is closer to standards. Most professionals here don’t realize that the files they exchange are standardized. DWG drawing format is a standard and so is DXF. Those are the most famous file formats used in AEC industry. Software in the end must output files as specified by standards for those file formats. So, if the professional is going to be peeking through Stages (1) to (3) above. He will definitely become more familiar with these standards and be able to stir his custom tools to adhere.
5. Educational Benefits:
Someone’s gonna teach how to use these free-tools eventually. Linux becomes glaringly attractive for Education when viewed from a Software engineering perspective. With scripting and coding gradually becoming part of other disciplines, the availability of compile sources and libraries make Linux the best OS for training developers (including those who have to tweak Architects tools). Linux also cuts down on additional learning requirements where the Educators follow the development of the product (Architecture inclusive). So, enhancements and changes don’t have to attract special research grants or update courses to align educators with the recent capabilities and evolution of the software.
6. Security and Stability Benefits:
Most architects here are familiar with software viruses and have lost data one way or the other. Linux is popular for mission-critical scenarios and runs on better file-systems. It is also developed around strong Security principles. It gets even better by the day. It might be challenging explaining why EXT3/4 or ReiserFS is better than NTFS because most Architects here don’t even know FAT. SELinux may be a little geeky to describe, but I think the fact that most viruses do nothing to a Linux box is convincing enough.
7. Sustainability & Support Benefits
Majority of open-source and free projects survive on a community of technical users who are mostly ready to provide answers. Updates come at the cost of internet services (hence, its totally free) and the user is not required to pay to migrate from release to release.
Wow! This is still sketchy so I may need more to buttress these points. I’m certain there will be questions. I’ll appreciate some punchy tips to add here.