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When the Stock Market Gives you Lemons, You Make Lemonade

Facing tough times? Now might be a good time to turn to Open Source.

As I write this, the US economy has just finished an entire week of carnage on Wall Street, with major financial institutions failing and well as fear and a lack of confidence in our financial system reached an all time low as that hasn’t been seen since the late 1920′s. Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 and found itself sold off in pieces; Merrill Lynch was sold to the Bank of America, and mega-insurance underwriter AIG was bailed out by the US Government to the tune of 85 billion dollars, all of which were there result of too much capital exposure in the subprime mortgage market.

The ramifications of this market failure are immense, with a projected loss of over 40,000 jobs in New York State alone affected by the downfall of the aforementioned firms. Much like September 11. 2001 was a sea change event on how we view national security and our own safety, September 15 2008 will be regarded as the day we all took stock of the economy and decided that maybe we’d better give some second thought to conspicuous consumption and market greed.

All of this seems particularly surreal, particularly after having just attended a press-only event last night, The Pepcom Holiday Spectacular in New York City. As usual, the Pepcom party was chock full of ooh and ahhh gadgets and doo-dads, like expensive digital cameras, leading edge handheld devices, big high definition screens and multimedia PCs, you name it. The difference is that this year, few consumers will likely to be able to afford them, or at the very least have extreme pause before they consider purchasing these kinds items during the coming Christmas and Holiday season. If I had to take a gander at it, people are going to be stuffing their mattresses with their cash as opposed to stuffing their stockings with holiday gifts in 2009.

In personal and enterprise computing, however, life must go on. The financial crisis is certainly going to affect spending on new PCs, servers and software. Wallets are going to be clamped and belts are going to be tightened. So what do you do?

Well, I can think of no better reason for all of us to see Linux and Open Source as the clear solution to ride out the storm.

In the Pre “9-15″ economy, it was a lot harder to make the justification to use Linux and Open Source software because it was perceptively “harder to use” or had “a new learning curve”. There was always an excuse to be made because it was easy enough to go out and buy a PC with Windows and Windows applications. But with software license costs increasing, which undoubtedly affects the bottom line in a big way, particularly for small and medium sized businesses, the only sensible thing to do when all of us are on a austerity budget is to look at Free and Open Source alternatives.

So if your Windows XP system is getting clunky with age – like my wife’s old PC was — why not forget purchasing some new Core 2 Quad 4GB Vista PCs for a year, and look into refurbishing your 2 or 3-year old systems with a free, feature rich, and less resource-intensive Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or OpenSUSE? Instead of Microsoft Office, why not run OpenOffice? Set up a file, web or database server with CentOS or Debian. Do you need a virtualization solution? Check out VMWare ESX 3i or investigate KVM and OpenVZ, with a solution like ProxMox.

Sure, we all want the economy to return to a stable and growing state, and we want to be able to improve our business and personal computing infrastructure. But in the meantime, we can all breathe easy that in terms of software, Open Source and Linux has us covered.

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