Constraints to Widespread Adoption
The upsurge of Linux, OpenOffice and other open-source solutions has been hopeful for their developers and users. However, growth might be tapering off for many of these. It would be difficult to pin this plateau on one impediment, but we’ll cover a few that stand out in potential users’ minds, and we’ll also address ways to overcome these impediments.
Economics is not a zero-sum game: There are not fixed, permanent amounts of capital or end users. However, a market is only so big at any given time. MySQL has to vie in its market with huge proprietary players such as Oracle, and Linux faces Microsoft Windows in the operating-systems sector. Open-source tools face stiff competition against entrenched companies that—let’s face it—make a lot of good products (or at least good enough for the average consumer). If customers are happy with the price and performance, they aren’t going to change.
However, there are a few basic steps the open-source community can take to promote its solutions, including:
- Marketing overseas: Many companies and governments in emerging countries can’t pay for the licensing costs associated with proprietary systems—or even the systems themselves. Clients in these areas would likely welcome freeware.
- Encouraging existing customers to try new products: People who already use open-source products in some capacity are much more likely to try new ones, as opposed to those unfamiliar with them. If they’re using proprietary software and you’re aware of an open-source equivalent, let them know about it.
- Selling future IT pros on the idea: Young people are typically open to new ideas and technologies. Evans Data Corp. President John Andrews said younger IT professionals tend to gravitate toward open-source because of its malleable and innovative qualities. If you know any young people just beginning a technology career or looking to do so, tell them about the benefits of using open-source tools and techniques.
Right now, some of you might be thinking, “Wait a sec, open-source products don’t cost a dime to purchase, right?” Well, that all depends. Freeware doesn’t cost anything to download or redistribute. However, users often can’t modify it. Free software, on the other hand, can be modified, but users probably have to pay to redistribute it.
The cost to redistribute free software is nominal compared to the main budget-busting issues within open-source: training, maintenance and support. Also, there are hidden costs with open-source adoption that businesses see but IT pros might not. For example, in addition to the cost of training an employee, productivity is lost when the employee has to attend a course and ease into new tasks using the product. Many organizations look at how much money they could make (and save) through open-source deployment and compare it to how much they would spend and opportunities they might miss, and they conclude it’s not worth it.
To solve this problem, introduce corporate clients to vendors that have a reputation for performance and solid training and tech-support programs, such as Red Hat, OpenOffice 2.0 and Firefox. Also tell them about other organizations that have successfully implemented them. “Did you the Commonwealth of Massachusetts selected OpenOffice’s OpenDocument as its official application for word processing? Well, you do now.” (For selling tips, read my colleague Liz Perveiler’s “Selling Your Employer on Open Source” article last month at www.certmag.com/articles/anmviewer.asp?a=1593.)
Outsiders often see the open-source community as pedantic, dogmatic, needlessly vicious and tech snobs. (I imagine a few of you might concur with these.) It’s also been labeled by the proprietary crowd as a bunch of radical lefties, kind of like the Baader-Meinhof gang of IT. Bill Gates even called the open-source community and other free-culture advocates the “modern-day sort of communists.”
However, it’s the performance of an open-source solution that counts, not any supposed ideology, political or otherwise. Besides, lots of people make money off open-source products and services. If there weren’t any profit in it, open-source solutions, such as Linus Torvalds’ first version of Linux, would never amount to much more than a hobby.
–Brian Summerfield, email@example.com