Going Linux

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Introducing Open Source Software In Business

Updated: 23-Jul-2014
Installing applications

In episode 233, Troy provided us with his (and his company's) recommendations on which applications are best accepted by his Small Business customers switching to Linux. In fact, we wrote an article on the website detailing the list. Now we'd like to give you things to consider when attempting to get Linux and Open Source software adopted in your company.

If you’ve ever mentioned open source software in your day-to-day job, your comments would likely have been met with a spectrum of reaction between two extremes. On the one-hand, the "technical insider", someone who is already familiar with the world of Free Software and Open Source software, is likely to already know the benefits that it could bring to a business. They may, in fact, be very frustrated at not being able to convince management to use more of it. On the other hand, the "corporate insider", someone who is entrenched in profit and loss, increasing revenues and running the business, is likely to be blissfully ignorant that software licenses exist that can offer the freedom and flexibility of open source.

Since the latter are more likely to be the decision-makers in the organization, these are the people you need to convince. If you don't, your efforts will be shot down before you get very far.

Delivering the right message

Writing on OpenSource.com, Robin Isard gives some practical advice on how to introduce the idea of open source in business.

  1. Say "open source software" or "open source tools" not just "open source." (See below for our further recommendation on this point.)
  2. Say "maintain" instead of "develop" or "contribute" which imply an obligation.
  3. Instead of "development" (your company business may not be software development) talk about the agility that open source licensed software can give you to respond more quickly to feature requests from users.
  4. "Free" can imply "cheap" so talk about businesses that thrive on open source, that many businesses help maintain open source software, and that open source software has vendors, too.

Here is our addition to this advice:

  1. Build awareness of open source first
  2. Build adoption slowly until it reaches a watershed
  3. Use examples of open source that is already in use in your organization (or that users might be familiar with) like Firefox, Apache server, RedHat Linux, mySQL, Ruby, Python, Perl, PHP, Heroku, HandBrake, BugZilla, Git, SmoothWall, Untangle and PuTTY. You can also mention software that is built on an open source foundation, such as Java, JavaScript, Android, Google Chrome, and Mac OSX. In addition, you can mention the hardware that runs open source licensed software: Chromebooks, in-flight and in-car entertainment systems, Tim Horton's menu boards, and almost every smart phone and tablet manufacturer out there.

    NOTE: Try to make sure the person you are trying to convince actually LIKES the product you are using as an example before you mention it, otherwise you will have undermined your own argument by leaving a bad impression.
  4. Focus on what open source can do for the business. (Lower cost on it's own is not a benefit!)
  5. Focus on the software license as open source, not the software itself. Use the term "open source-licensed software" instead of simply "open source software".
  6. Attribute the benefits to the license, not to the software. This helps to disassociate the "good" thing -- the benefits that the licence provides the business -- from past experiences with possible past experiences with "bad" or badly implemented open source software.

Convincing the right people

On GitHub, Mozilla's Nick Desauliniers' experiment with the topic "What Open Source Means To Me" yielded a number of interesting results that reveal that the technical insider’s view of open source is positive overall.

But what about the business side? Katherine Noyes in PC World reports that "Executives are increasingly willing to work with open source communities to spur innovation." Citing Black Duck's "Future of Open Source" annual surveys, Noyes indicates that the top 3 reasons behind choosing open source in 2012 and 2013 were better quality software, freedom from vendor lock-in, and flexibility of/access to large software libraries.

The 2014 "The Future of Open Source" survey says that quality is once again the top driving force behind businesses choosing open source.

So here are 6 key advantages of using Open Source-licensed software that you can focus on when you make your case:

  1. Easier to maintain
  2. More quickly and easily respond to feature requests
  3. Already using Open Source-licensed software
  4. Better quality software
  5. Access to and the flexibility of large software libraries
  6. Freedom from vendor lock-in

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