A blog for the enterprise open source community
Why “how” is the most important question open source vendors can answerMatthew Aslett, April 11, 2008 @ 5:30 am ET
“The question is not why use open source, but how to best use open source,” wrote Matt Asay earlier this week. It was a throwaway point but one that I think deserves more attention.
It occurred to me that “how” rather than “why” is the most significant question that open source vendors and projects should be answering right now as they try to encourage greater adoption of open source software.
There can’t be a CIO or IT director left on the planet that hasn’t either asked or been told why they should deploy open source software. They are either inclined towards believing the claims of theoretical benefits or they’re not. How many have asked or been told how they can take advantage of open source software?
Certainly those that are convinced or intrigued by the potential benefits will have gone on to explore how to go about reaping the rewards, but what about the waverers? Too often open source supporters just keep repeating the why mantra, as if the skeptics will eventually buckle under the pressure and offer themselves up for conversion.
Would a focus on how to make the best use of open source software not make a more compelling case? Besides, discussion about why you should deploy open source software naturally prompts discussion about why not you should not. How avoids unnecessary focus on the alternatives.
As I was thinking about this issue I came across an article in Baseline that discusses some of the obstacles facing IT management as they consider how to deploy open source. It provides a pretty good checklist of the questions open source vendors should be answering:
This is perhaps the how question that open source has gone the furthest towards answering, thanks in part to the SCO Group’s bungled legal claims. Black Duck and Palamida rose to the challenge, while individual vendors and vendors took on board and responded to issues related to licensing confusion. HP is now getting in on the act with fossbazaar.
Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat called the FOSS vendors out on this one in his keynote at OSBC, noting that: “We should be doing a better job advising companies how they can join open source projects.” This raised the question not just of how, practically, users can contribute back, but also how they will benefit from doing so. “We’re a newspaper company, not a technology company,” Derek Gottfrid, senior software architect at NYTimes.com, told Baseline. “We weren’t nervous about our open-source database layer being used by the Washington Post for a competitive advantage.” This sort of attitude can only come from a greater understanding of the benefits of open source than a focus on price and licensing flexibility.
The relationship between and open source software vendor and a traditionally licensed software vendor and their customers is intrinsically different. It comes with a lot less direct sales and a lot less hand-holding. Ensuring that potential customers understand how the relationship works is essential to setting their expectations at the right level. It also ties in to the next question:
Access to top quality support remains the biggest barrier to open source adoption despite significant investment by the open source vendors. The answer, other than getting acquired by Sun, has got to be getting existing customers to stand up and demonstrate their satisfaction. This has proved problematic in the past but should prove easier as more customers understand where their true competitive advantage lies (see above).
Providing access to source code is not an excuse for poor or non-existent documentation. Again, this is one of the how questions that open source vendors have worked hard to answer in recent years.
Another problem that is diminishing thanks to the growing popularity of open source. As Jon Williams, (former) CTO at Kaplan Test states: “Open source is an absolutely incredible tool for motivating and retaining IT talent.” It is nevertheless something that vendors can and are continuing to help with.
That’s an abridged list, but it’s a good starting point. How else can open source vendors help potential customers gaining a greater understanding of open source?
Comments (5) Categories: Software