DIWhat?

(Ref Id: 1342723524)

'Bespoke' LIMS are supposedly LIMS that are built in-house by companies needing a LIMS but not interested in purchasing one from a vendor. At least this is the popular thinking that ignores what has been happening in our beloved industry since open source became popular.

The idea behind open source is simply that you distribute the source code of your software project along with the compiled version. This allows the user to change things about the software to suit his/her/organizational needs, recompile it, and use the system along with the changes. People have been doing this before computers were miniaturized to fit on a desktop so it has a much longer history than the personal computer.

Today, mainly due to the work of the Free Software Foundation, easy-to-use licenses are available for use that protect the user's right to redistribute the software along with the changes. Although this looks a lot like giving software away it is actually a bit different. When software authors place these kind of licenses on their software they are ensuring that the entire chain of contributors to the software are protected. It prohibits anyone from taking their contributions and converting them to a proprietary work.

Not all open source software follows this thinking. One should not confuse open source software itself with software that is protected by an open source license. The license denotes the specific provisions the licensor grants (or reserves) with repect to redistribution of the source code. Open source software, itself, is only a statement about the availability of the software's source code to the user -- not what he/she can do with it. A company can obtain open source software with restrictions on how they can distribute it for instance. It all depends on the contents of the software license.

So why all this talk about open source software? Bespoke systems built in-house typically do not have to think about licensing. These systems are normally a proprietary work-product without any external licensing provisions whatsoever. No one outside of the organization is allowed to have a copy; any consultants or third party developers are under a strict work-for-hire development agreement that prohibits them from redistributing the product in any form outside of the organization. When open source licensing came onto the scene lots of organizations took their in-house/bespoke systems, slapped an open source license on them, and began distributing their source code for free on the Internet. Nowadays the first place to look for source code for a project is open source rather than breaking ground with all new code.

This brings us to the bespoke system name and how it is largely now defunct. You see, if you can obtain the rights to use an entire block of software source code from an organization that you are familiar with for free why would you consider starting a project from scratch? Even if you did not like 50% of the codebase published by the other company you can still obtain a leg up on your own development by simply refactoring the remaining 50%. The only organizations that are building purely bespoke LIMS have a) never heard of open source licensing b) are afraid to use it c) cannot find anything in the open source marketplace that comes anywhere close to their needs or d) they are opposed to using open source on philosophical grounds.

As open source continues to gain ground 'c' will eventually fail as a legitimate reason as will 'a'. Fear is something hard to quantify so a company can bar the use of open source by 'b' for a very long time. These include legal concerns that the source code may have been obtained without permission from one or more authors or that the source code may have hidden and/or malicious 'backdoors' to compromise a user's security. Moving past these fears nowadays has to do with having organizations attached to popular software packages that are comprised/supported by big names in your industry. That way contributing organizations provide evidence of the source code's authorship (they pay their employees to write customizations and enhancements to the software) and mechanisms to ensure that the source code has not been tampered with. That leaves 'd' -- philosphical differences with open source. Open source is different, strange, and unfamiliar to many organizations and that leads people assume that there might be hidden terms or some form of 'catch'. For some it is too hard to believe that something so valuable could be obtained for little or no cost.

Provided organizations can get past all of these problems they can be successful in utilizing open source which means that the bespoke option no longer really makes sense. That is why I've buried the bespoke term and have replaced it with Do-It-Yourself (DIY) at this site. DIY encompasses the several areas of LIMS development that include open source as a viable option alongside purchasing a vendor system and customizing it, the old in-house system development, as well as adopting open source.

References

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[1] http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/news/2002/11/35212

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