Aust IT decision-makers don't understand open source: report

Australia's top information technology decision-makers have a limited understanding of open source and very low awareness of open source products other than Linux, according to a leading analyst. Those decision-makers also pay little attention to the "religious" arguments involving open and closed source software when developing strategies for their organisations, said the analyst, who recently completed a report into the topic.

Australia's top information technology decision-makers have a limited understanding of open source and very low awareness of open source products other than Linux, according to a leading analyst.

Those decision-makers also pay little attention to the "religious" arguments involving open and closed source software when developing strategies for their organisations, said the analyst, who recently completed a report into the topic.

Bruce McCabe, managing director of S2 Intelligence, told ZDNet Australia  the limited level of knowledge and awareness among Australia's top decision-makers about open source -- and their low awareness of specific products other than Linux -- was "disappointing".

According to his report, decision-makers were guilty of "a range of misinterpretations, or simplifications, of the definition of open source," with many treating the words "Linux" and "open source software" as synonymous. Other problems included blurring of the definition of open source software and open standards and confusion between open source and shared source.

"Incomplete or simplified interpretations of open source are more prevalent among senior decision-makers in larger businesses and also among information technology decision-makers with a business background, but even the most technical advocates of open source strayed from the strict definition during interviews," the report said.

While Linux and OpenOffice/StarOffice scored high recognition levels and Apache was frequently named as "a mature open source product in widespread use," the knowledge base did not extend much further. "Open source databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL were named by several respondents unprompted, but awareness among information technology decision-makers was generally very low," the report said. "Awareness levels for all other products was close to nil".

McCabe said economic issues and reliability were the key drivers of information technology policy, rather than any significant bias on the part of decision-makers.

"The 'open source debate', as public argument for and against is labelled, had far less visibility than expected among Australian decision-makers," McCabe said in the report.

He quoted one respondent as saying "open source is just another way, nothing more and nothing less".

The report, released to ZDNet Australia   states that "while underlying bias [in the open source versus closed source software debate] did exist, it was neither extreme nor set in concrete.

"Decision-makers most active in open source deployments still retained a critical eye for strengths and weaknesses and those strongly aligned with closed source architectures believed open source had a legitimate role in the enterprise (albeit a limited one) and made a point of evaluating open source alternatives".

McCabe told ZDNet Australia   "I found it interesting people were as pragmatic as they were ... they didn't have a closed mind to open source".

He said in his report almost all senior decision-makers eschewed a broad policy on closed or open source software, instead delegating decisions to operational managers to be made on a product-by-product basis.

This stood in stark contrast to the approach adopted for issues such as choosing between J2EE or.NET development platforms or selecting standards and protocols for enterprise integration, "both of which are commonly seen as issues requiring a policy or overall direction.

McCabe said he derived his findings from structured interviews with 16 top-tier decision makers; comprising information technology managers and chief information officers primarily at large corporates, as well as representatives of government agencies responsible for information technology policy. The interviews were carried out between August and December last year.

McCabe said, however, the report revealed that decision-makers viewed open source software as more likely to comply with open standards than its closed-source rivals, "a very interesting and potentially very powerful" view insofar as the future prospects for open source were concerned.

While it was too early to tell whether open source software was "better" than closed source software at the moment in terms of quality and security, "I have a feeling that the association of open source with open standards has real merit," McCabe said.

Because there were many more developers in a broad community contributing to the development of open source software, he said, "it seems likely to me to be more open in the interfaces between itself and other software and adaptable in integration and communication.

"At the moment, among senior decision-makers, this is not really high on the radar, issues of cost and dependency are, but adherence to open standards has the potential to be a strong driver," he said.

"If chief information officers in Australia come to believe open source software delivers more integration, this may open up a few eyes and break down a few barriers," he said.

McCabe noted that to date, most Linux deployments had displaced Unix, not Windows, as an operating system, a factor tied heavily to the "especially significant savings being made on hardware.

"Specifically, decision-makers report that the greatest savings in deploying Linux come from the ability to dump proprietary hardware, running operating systems such as HP/UX, AIX and Solaris, in favour of low-cost Intel servers.