Linux: Time to take the next step

commentary A couple of speakers at last week's AUUG conference drilled home several messages that those in the Linux and open source communities with serious commercial aspirations must accept in order to make serious headway into the corporate and government sectors.

commentary A couple of speakers at last week's AUUG conference drilled home several messages that those in the Linux and open source communities with serious commercial aspirations must accept in order to make serious headway into the corporate and government sectors.

Winning lucrative deals in competition with proprietary software vendors is not achieved by carrying on about Microsoft's capitalist, monopolistic practices versus the 'socialist' practices involved in open source software development.

Government departments and corporates have little or no interest in the passionate "Gates is the Antichrist", foaming-at-the-mouth, "SCO should burn in Hell" rhetoric that characterises many in the open source community.

What departments and corporates do respond to are thorough, tailored proposals detailing how a given Linux or open source solution can save them significant amounts of money while helping them achieve all their business goals. A little extra focus on traditional areas of concern in open source, such as support, doesn't hurt either.

Microsoft Australia's managing director, Steve Vamos, says in an interview to be published in the October issue of C|Level magazine "There are very few customers who approach evaluations of alternative technology on the basis of, 'Oh boy, we will show Microsoft by doing this!'"

Like it or not, he's right.

The most sensible statements on the topic at the conference from a government perspective came from a Liberal politician who stood in for the Information Technology and Communications Minister, Helen Coonan.

Christopher Pearce told AUUG delegates "Agencies are allowed to use whatever software is available, providing it meets agencies' needs and is cost-effective as a business solution, considering the total cost of ownership over the life of its use, not just the up-front cost.

"The use of open source software is encouraged on value-for-money and fit-for-purpose principles. These are the same principles applying to the use of proprietary software. In fact, they are the principles underlying all government procurement".

The Australian Labor Party's spokesperson on information technology, Kate Lundy, while making a raft of positive comments about open source software -- including remarks about the potential for savings within government and the removal of barriers restricting the ability of small local companies to secure government contracts -- gave no indication that an ALP government would legislate to tip the playing field one way or another.

The criteria applied by the corporate sector are not much different, except the commercial nous of many large players means their full assessment of rival solutions may not necessarily be clear until a final contract is signed. Witness Telstra's flirtation with StarOffice and Linux on the desktop before eventually wangling a new deal with Microsoft at considerable discount.

The issues facing companies and departments in evaluating a migration to Linux are complex and difficult. A recent Yankee Group survey found that only four percent of businesses planned to migrate Unix servers to Linux within the next two years, while 11 percent planned to move Windows servers to Linux and 21 percent said they would add Linux servers to a predominantly Windows environment.

On the desktop, 36 percent of businesses expected to have a few Linux PCs in their operation, but only five percent planned a total migration to Linux. Fifty-seven percent planned not to shift from Windows.

The Yankee Group said corporate adoption would remain slow, with a number of issues in play as to whether a migration would be cost-effective. These ranged from interoperability with existing applications to availability of existing Linux support personnel.

These issues must be addressed by the Linux and open source community if its products are to start dominating those of the Redmond behemoth in the corporate and government arena. Substitute some of the emotion with an even greater degree of professionalism in helping customers adopt Linux/open source solutions and the pickings could indeed be rich.

What do you think? Where can the Linux and open source community lift its game? Is the writer a paid shill for Microsoft?

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