EC's open-source study wins broad support

Industry has rallied behind optimistic research into open source, but one analyst questions the Commission's cost assertions
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

The European Commission-sponsored report which urged organisations to consider deploying open-source software has won widespread support from key industry figures.

The report, released last week, said the total cost of ownership of deploying open source was less than the cost of running proprietary software, in "almost all" cases. In a hefty tome, a team of academics from the United Nations University in Maastricht, Netherlands, spelt out many benefits of open-source software and tried to quantify its contribution to the European economy.

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer at Sun, said the report brought "cold, hard facts" to the debate of whether open source was a feasible alternative for businesses. "There is a lot to praise in this report, in particular the assertion that the EU seeks to eliminate discrimination against open source, which has unwittingly crept into processes in the EU," Phipps told ZDNet UK.

"It flies in the face of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] that reactionary companies are bringing to the debate," Phipps added, declining to clarify if he was referring to Microsoft. "You've got FUD that switching to OpenOffice brings new costs. This shows that switching to OpenOffice saves a tremendous amount of money. The report helps businesses that were wary because of FUD to realise that it really is FUD and that they can really save money."

The academics who wrote the report analysed how several different European organisations use OpenOffice, and looked to see whether migration and training costs outweighed the saving made by not paying a licence fee for Microsoft Office. They found no evidence that productivity suffered through the use of OpenOffice, and also found that moving to open source software delivered cost savings "in almost all cases".

Laurent Lachal, an open-source software analyst with Ovum, shared Phipps's optimistic view of the report. "The study is very positive to open source. A lot of closed-source vendors will be a bit miffed. It shows that open source is now mainstream and that it's nothing to fear and something to take into account in everyday business decisions in procuring software."

Lachal continued: "The European Commission definitely has an open-source agenda, although its business is to remain neutral. It is managing the process to ensure that open source is taken seriously. There is an underlying ambition to boost the European software industry that hasn't been particularly strong in the past."

But Lachal did urge caution over the assertion in the report that total cost of ownership was lower in 'almost all' cases. He said: "The debate is a very complex one. In the long run, there are a lot of things to take into account. It depends on a case-by-case basis."

Lachal was also critical of the report's blanket reasoning that the cost of training would be a major expense in the first year of a migration to open source. "It depends on where you start. Training is an issue, but it depends on a case-by-case basis. If you are running Unix, the training will be less than if you are running Windows," he said, referring to the greater similarities for IT staff between open source and Unix.

Mark Taylor, founder of the Open Source Consortium, echoed his support for the Commission's work. "The report is bang on the money," he said. "I absolutely welcome it. I'm pleased they have recognised the economic benefits of open source."

Despite repeated requests for its response to the report, Microsoft had not commented at the time of writing.

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