The lax dress code of the open-source community is one of the reasons
behind the software's slow uptake in commercial environments, says former
Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn.
Quinn, who played a key role in the Bay State
government's decision to mandate the use of OpenDocument-based products, said
appearance matters when trying to convince decision makers of the merits of open-source software.
He pointed to the "sandal and ponytail set" as detracting from the
business-ready appearance of open-source technology and blamed developers for
sluggish adoption of Linux among businesses and governments.
"Open source has an unprofessional appearance, and the community needs to be
more business-savvy in order to start to make inroads in areas traditionally
dominated by commercial software vendors. (Having) a face on a project or agenda
makes it attractive for politicians (to consider open source)."
He went on to suggest that while the open-source community was slowly
beginning to come to terms with the need to dress for success, doing so is a "huge education process."
In terms of public-sector implementation, Quinn said political considerations
in the United States had prevented many technology workers from going public
about their support for open-source software solutions and projects being
undertaken across government entities.
In Australia to speak at the inaugural LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Sydney this week, Quinn
told journalists, "I can't mention (the people by name), because as soon as you
mention them, they get their heads taken off."
"I think there's something going on in every agency in every (U.S) state," he
said. "Whether the CIO knows it or not, that's a different thing. I think almost
everybody, they say, 'It's not happening at my shop, I promise you,' but when
you (go) to their shop, it's happening. So I think it's happening everywhere, but there's varying degrees."
The culture of fear was exacerbated by the fact this was an election year in
the United States, he said.
Quinn, who faced
plenty of scrutiny over his support of the OpenDocument standards-based
office document format, said proponents of open source in government faced
formidable opposition from vested interests if they went public.
"When you think about the lobbying power and the cash that's available for opponents of open source and
opponents of OpenDocument, there is a significant amount of money and resource
that people can and will bring to bear," he said.
However, fear of reprisal was not the only reason why open-source software
had not been accepted more widely, he said. Quinn also blamed the leaders of
technology departments for not communicating the benefits of open-source software to their businesses effectively.
"I blame the IT community, I blame the IT leadership, over and over and over
again, about their inability to articulate correctly the business opportunity
that we've got here," Quinn said.
"(I blame them) for not understanding what it is that they do, for spending
too much time talking and thinking in technology terms, and not thinking in terms of business," he said.
Massachusetts' adoption of the OpenDocument format was seen as a watershed
decision by open-source evangelists. The decision, made to ensure that archived
documents would be interoperable between systems over many years, had
effectively shut out Microsoft, which did not support OpenDocument.
(Microsoft this month joined
a committee that has a key role in the ratification of the OpenDocument
format as an international standard, though observers are speculating why.)
Microsoft's decision not to support the format had been a "strategic
mistake," according to Quinn, who had encouraged OpenDocument advocates around
the world to band together.
left his Massachusetts CIO post in January, after he was investigated for
unauthorized trips to conferences. He was subsequently cleared.
"You can only stand in the public arena for so long and have mud thrown at you," he said.