On the ITToolbox community, we have some very passionate bloggers both for and against open source software (OSS). I am a proponent of both OSS and proprietary software. As an architect, I view both of these as tools in my toolbox. The trick is to know when to use the right tool for the right job. It is unfortunate that some people think there is no place for OSS. Here are a few of the myths (FUD) that I continue to hear from people who insist on depriving their company from leveraging OSS tools even when it may be the best solution for a given problem.
- OSS is bad for the economy and defies the values of capitalism
- OSS support is bad, slow, and/or non-existent
- OSS products are second rate ("created in the garage" mentality)
- OSS can't be good because it is free
This could not be further from the truth. Here is a real life scenario from my trip to France last week.
One of our business partners is in the software development business. They are a small company with small IT budgets whose customers are primarily in the retail industry, mainly grocery chains. The retail grocery industry is a very low margin business and one where companies are in real danger of being crushed by the likes of Walmart and Carrefour. These companies are extremely frugal and the big boys have a major say in the price of goods and services. One of our partner's core strategies is to leverage open source technologies to keep both their costs down and to keep the cost of their solutions down. Due to privacy concerns, some of these retailers are demanding that solutions providers shift from the current ASP or SAAS models to a shrink-wrapped model (buying the software and running it locally). This is currently not feasible for companies heavily invested in proprietary software due to the licensing costs of vendor software that is involved. The retailer would have to pay for the operating system, the database, the application server, the BPM tools, the middleware, etc. This would add up to a hefty bill. Using OSS like the LAMP suite (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PhP) and Intalio for BPM, this solution becomes affordable and a competitive advantage to sell to the hundreds of retailers in this space.Please read this article from Wired called Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business so you will understand my next point. Here is an excerpt from the article.
Technology is giving companies greater flexibility in how broadly they can define their markets, allowing them more freedom to give away products or services to one set of customers while selling to another set.
Let's look at this blog for starters. I use free tools to publish my lessons learned and ideas on both Blogspot and ITToolbox. In both cases, a software product and a service was offered to me for free. In return, Google and ITToolbox get value by increasing traffic which increases advertising revenue. I paid nothing for the software or the services. I dedicate a lot of my personal time and expertise to my blogs because I get recognition, increase my network, and I learn from others. So in this case, "Free" is actually a revenue generator and is good for the economy. In the example above, free software allows my company and our business partner to compete by controlling our costs. These OSS products allow us to generate revenue and allows the retailers to improve their products and services by leveraging our loyalty marketing solutions. Once again, "Free" is generating revenue.
The anti-OSS folks argue that OSS is taking food off the plates of developers and giants like Microsoft. Yes this is not good news for Microsoft but there is more to the world's economy then the market share of software giants. Without OSS, this new surge in Social Networking would not be what it is today. Look at all of these new startup companies that have emerged over the last few years. Starting a Internet company from the ground up has never been more affordable. Look at tools like Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress, MediWiki, Joomla and others. These tools are changing the way the world communicates and they are all free. The more collaborative the world is, the stronger the global economy gets. These are all good for the economy.
I believe if people would stop thinking of OSS as Linux versus Windows, we could look past our "religious" beliefs about our favorite operating system and start focusing on things like controlling costs, share holder value, flexibility, negotiating power against vendors, and more. In part two I will discuss the myth about support for OSS. Until then, I look forward to the debate that follows. I ask that we keep it professional!