Opening the source of free online programs and applications

By Gabrielle Stannus

We undertake a quick review of free to use, open source programs and applications to see which may have practical use in your nursery’s office or greenhouse.

What does ‘open source’ mean?
‘Open source’ is generally associated with software, hence the term ‘open source data’. However, it also applies to hardware. Open source means that anyone that chooses to can freely access a program or application’s source code, design documents or content, and then make improvements and/or modifications to them, before sharing these changes freely. With proprietary hardware or software, e.g. Microsoft Office, only the original authors can legally copy, inspect, and alter it, and they generally charge you for the privilege of its use.

Operating systems and software for your office computers
In many offices, computer users purchase a licence to use an operating system that enables their software to communicate with their PC or laptop’s hardware, e.g. Windows. However, some offices choose to install free open-source operating systems (OS) instead.

GNU is an open-source OS that uses the Linux kernel to 'talk' to a computer’s hardware. The Free Software Foundation provides a catalogue of useful free software that runs under free GNU-like systems, not limited to the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants.

Ubuntu is a commonly used Linux OS distribution, and its software centre carries thousands of free and commercial applications for Linux to help you run your office. Many of these programs also run on proprietary operating systems. Some proprietary software is only compatible with proprietary operating systems, e.g. Microsoft Office is only available on Windows and MAC, not GNU. However, Linux generally has an equivalent free software for the same purpose, e.g. LibreOffice or Apache Open Office .

Databases
There are many open-sourced databases now available online. Farmdata is one example that may be useful in a nursery setting. It allows the user to enter and report crop production records, including seeding, transplanting, harvest, cover crops, composting, fertilization, irrigation, pest scouting, spray activities, packing and distribution records and customer invoicing. Farmdata is compatible with smartphones and desktop computers.

Data visualisation tools
Once you have your nursery data, how do you identify patterns and trends within it? Would you like to create interactive charts and graphs to communicate your business results, or maybe make a mobile-friendly interactive map to promote your retail nursery? Some open-source data visualisation programs are more intuitive than others, e.g. Google’s Sheets. Others are more complex and may require you to know JavaScript, a computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers.

Want to know more? Check out Tharika Tellicherry’s ‘ 20 free and open source data visualization tools ’ blog on Hackerearth.

Solutions for the greenhouse and other areas of your business
You can even find open-source designs online for practical tools for use in your nursery’s greenhouses and fields.

Hackaday is an online community promoting the free and open exchange of ideas and information. Its members have shared designs ranging from greenhouse automation systems to weather sensing projects . Hackaday targets engineers and engineering enthusiasts as its primary users.

Farm Hack is a worldwide community of farmers that build and modify their own practical tools whilst embracing an open source ethic. In their own words, Farm Hack members “embrace the long-standing farm traditions of tinkering, inventing, fabricating, tweaking, and improving things that break.” Projects include heated greenhouse tables , low-cost mobile hoop houses and ‘ Fido ’, a temperature alarm that sends text messages when your greenhouse is getting too frosty.

Maybe you would like to try your hand at making a video to promote your business? Check out Blender, a free and open source 3D creation suite on which you can model, animate and simulate objects plus more in 3D.

Attribute the source!
Although open-source works are made freely available, you may require a licence to use them. Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organisation set up to help people share their work more easily. They provide free, easy-to-use copyright licenses helping to simplify and standardise to give your permission to share and use your creative work, on conditions of your choice. The one general proviso is that the user of the shared work attributes its creator.

1.1 billion plus works are currently shared on Creative Commons’ online repository, including writing, audio, open education, scientific research and more. This includes than 300 million images. If you are looking for visuals to use to promote your nursery, there may just be an image there to suit your needs – for free!

Is open source for you?
Using open source programs and applications requires time, effort and certain skills, and that is the catch! How do you rate your technological literacy? Do you like to tinker? If so, then open sourcing your software and hardware may be the way to go for you. Otherwise then perhaps you should stick to the convenience of ready-made proprietary solutions to meet your office and greenhouse business needs.