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.
Linux: Time to take the next step
2004-09-12 Linux 27 Comments
Am I the only one who thinks the points raised in this article are glaringly obvious? Business has been all about the cycle of investment, return on investment, profit from the previous investment and then again investment as profit starts slacking off ever since the dawn of capitalism. Anything a business does is for profit, or in the very least to cover cost so as to make profit later. Same goes for computers and software. Linux is cheap to acquire, but it does have a cost of ownership attached to it just like everything else. That cost has to be earned back somehow by the Linux solution itself, or it should prevent cost at least equal to its own value in other areas, otherwise it has no merit.
It’s no use selling just Linux, just as it’s no use just selling Windows. Companies need to sell a solution to a business problem. Something that automates or facilitates the company’s core business activities such as ERP systems or a web shop. Nobody in management gives a flying cahoot about the OS that’s running underneath their web shop, as long as it’s turning a profit and the quicker it does so the better.
From the article: “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.
That’s a very broad definition of the issues that customers face when deciding to migrate. What would be more helpful is if somebody could come up with a clear list demonstrating the areas where Linux falls short. Such nebulous statements aren’t helpful.
Interoperability (mainly with MS Office and Outlook) is normally given as a major concern. For example with office suites, it is understandable that there will never be 100% interoperability between OSS apps like OpenOffice with MS Office, so compromises will have to be made. What level of interoperability is required before OpenOffice is considered suitable for adoption? What kind of features in MS Office documents don’t get imported correctly into OpenOffice and how important are those to the users? To my knowledge, such issues aren’t being addressed adequately.
With three letters: IBM. If that’s too hard: Novell. The article is just another vaieled ad hominen, “eye of the tiger” analysis by a suit who can’t tolerate the mutiple attitudes and goals which drive Open Source. Some do it for the most focused of business reasons, others “to beat Microsoft”. They all work together to better the product. So many choices and drives are outside his stunted capacity to rationalize.
one of the points that troubled me was that the author seemed total 100% migration to Linux was required for it to be succesfful in business.
one of the arguments from the FOSS community is getting away from homogenious networks. if you have a homogenius network, you’re setting yourself up for disaster, period.
i think its aweseme that linux, a hobby OS that was likely linux replacement, has become a successful windows replacement in server and desktop environments. at the OS level, i don’t know much its lacking, but when articles like this are written, they look at the whole software suite and refer to it as Linux.
OpenOffice.org support is an old argument, but should get better now that Office is moving towards XML file formats. How come no one ever blasts MS for supporting the OASIS file format? the three dominant FOSS office suites/document writers all do (OpenOffice, KOffice, Abiword), maybe someone should get on microsoft’s case about that instead of getting on OpenOffice.org’s inability to read a non-published format.
that attacks linux supporters with devastating accuracy. non-existent ones, that is. has anyone ever met an enterprise linux distributor who promotes linux for its socialistic values? anyone? anywhere?
What kind of features in MS Office documents don’t get imported correctly into OpenOffice and how important are those to the users?
That is a very relative question, because it differs from company to company. You can’t say ‘OpenOffice needs THIS feature’ and have that be true for everyone. As for me, if I were going to deploy OpenOffice in a business setting, I’d need to be sure that it could open any MS Office document with the correct formatting (whether it be Word, Excel, or Powerpoint) that is sent from any of my clients. Of course, to that, many zealots will bitch and whine that this isn’t possible because MS doesn’t play fair, and they woudl be right, but that is a political issues and politics don’t mean jack in the business world. Either it works or it doesn’t.
‘That is a very relative question, because it differs from company to company. You can’t say ‘OpenOffice needs THIS feature’ and have that be true for everyone. As for me, if I were going to deploy OpenOffice in a business setting, I’d need to be sure that it could open any MS Office document with the correct formatting (whether it be Word, Excel, or Powerpoint) that is sent from any of my clients. Of course, to that, many zealots will bitch and whine that this isn’t possible because MS doesn’t play fair, and they woudl be right, but that is a political issues and politics don’t mean jack in the business world. Either it works or it doesn’t’.
I totally agree, it works or it does not work. In the Business world ‘Enterprise’ level having something half-cooked solutions that cost a lot of money, waste time and worker productivity. IN my opinion you are better with ONE vendor for support on Hardware and one vendor for Operating System support. Having a rag-tag assortment of different operating systems is a support headache.
It is best to stick with one that works, has vendor support and hardware from a single vendor. It makes life easier and it is cheaper to maintain. Just buying whatever is the cheapest is NOT the right answer. Like the old saying you get what you pay for and having something you think is ‘free’ cost a lot of money in support.
Windows on the desktop is the most cost effective solution, and having QUALIFIED administrators who know what they are doing. Security is the main point here, it needs to be locked down top-down permissions and implemented on AS needed basis with the least amount of rights give in the first place.
Lastly, OpenOffice has no email client, Evolution is too unstable and buggy until someone can match MS Office it is a lost cause to even compete.
Of course appeals to socialism won’t convince companies or government agencies to switch to Linux. That’s why I see the mythical socialism connection talk coming primarily from opponents of FOSS.
FOSS includes a very large number of people, so I have read one or two statements from FOSS developers making appeals to socialist principles, but it’s not very common. I see the socialist label far, far more often from opponents of FOSS. It’s usually a good indicator that the writer doesn’t understand why people choose the FOSS model, so he falls back in ignorance on an explanation that he does understand. Not a good explanation, but sufficient for him to stop listening and start shouting. Dan Lyons of Forbes comes to mind.
The most significant reasons for FOSS development are freedom and cheaper/faster/better development cycles. Freedom is emphasized by Richard Stallman and the FSF, while the pragmatic benefits are emphasized by Eric Raymond and the OSI group. But not matter which you think is more important, in most cases you get both – the pragmatic benefits come from the freedom, and can’t be decoupled from it. That’s a lesson that many, including Sun, have trouble learning. Open but not free doesn’t work.
When dealing with bureaucractic institutions, freedom translates to issues of control and avoidance of vendor lockin. The low cost of switching from one Linux distributor to another keeps them honest. The customer is in control. Microsoft likes to talk about the high cost of switching to Linux; customers will soon enough realize that they are really talking about the high cost of migrating away from Windows, which is an excellent reason to avoid going there in the first place. They may be stuck on Windows for current projects, but new projects should avoid that high barrier to competition if they want low costs and good support.
The pragmatic advatages to FOSS are many. Closed software licenses cost too much, the licenses are too limiting and costly to keep track of, and operating costs are way too high. Windows is technically able to be locked down, but the defaults and culture make it uncommon, leading to high support costs. It’s shameful that most Windows users are running with administrator privileges, but it sure does explain the never ending virus problem. Microsoft’s cultural and marketing need to give new features higher priority over fixing old features is becoming a more pressing issue with many customers as productivity suffers.
Perhaps Mr. Ferguson should look at who is making claims about socialism before lecturing FOSS advocates. It’s not us.
I completely agree. One of the features that is sorely lacking in OpenOffice is the support for Word forms. Many shops these days seem to like sending out forms as a word file for people to fill in electronically. Sadly, OpenOffice doesn’t do this well and this one of the major show stoppers for me.
That does not mean that OO isn’t suitable for others.
Standard platforms, both hardware and software, do reduce support costs. But only if tempered with common sense.
Standard Windows desktops will work for most people in a typical company, but not all. The graphics department may do better with Macs, and engineers may need Unix workstations. One size does not fit all. The cost of IT support must be weighed against producticity in all departments. Heterogeous networks are a fact of life.
Just as all users don’t have the same needs, all computers don’t have the same needs. What makes sense for a desktop may not make sense for a server. Nor should all servers be the same. The type of service, and whether it’s internal or facing the Internet all make a difference. If you get the same answer to every question, you are cheating – no matter if the answer is Windows or Linux.
The proper business decision is to set up your processes such that you may switch vendors when it makes economic sense to do so. Then you can establish a preferred vendor relationship that results in benefits to both you and your vendor. But never confuse a preferred source with a sole source. You can switch preferred sources, and that’s the incentive to keeping a good relationship.
Apple and Sun each make integrated hardware and software systems, which allows for very low support costs. Yet each is struggling to maintain market share against generic x86 systems. The standard platform/lower support cost case isn’t working for them. Why not? Because each is a sole source, not a preferred source among many alternatives. Microsoft solutions benefit from the competition among interchangeable hardware solutions, but the software choices are diminishing as Microsoft absorbs or kills Windows ISVs. To get the same benefits of competition for software as you get with x86 hardware, you need to switch to a unix-like platform, such as Linux. Then you can establish that preferred source among alternatives relationship that is the key to business success.
‘The proper business decision is to set up your processes such that you may switch vendors when it makes economic sense to do so. Then you can establish a preferred vendor relationship that results in benefits to both you and your vendor. But never confuse a preferred source with a sole source. You can switch preferred sources, and that’s the incentive to keeping a good relationship’.
This is very confusing, going ‘el cheapo’ is not the best answer, having different hardware, software is more costly because of all the in house ‘special’ programming ‘middleware’ that is required.
Having Sun workstations,Alpha Servers running Tru64, Dell clusters running linux and windows desktops then tieing it together is a joke at best. Paying for a license fee is cheap compared to paying for an associate (salary, benefits, sick leave and so on).
Like the old saying goes servers are the thousand points of errors. Having solid vendor support, with solid operating system vendor from one point is more economical and cost effective approach. Rather than the ‘it is cheap’ lets buy that, meanwhile a few months later you have replaced the ‘cheap’ solution with the one you should have purchased to begin with. Makes no sense, if cheap was the answer why have so many of the .com’s went belly up with their cheap solutions?
Free markets work. Central planning doesn’t.
Free and open source software is a free market in software. People are free to choose what works for them, and that’s what gets more development.
The problem with communist economies is not that they are communist, it’s that they are centrally planned and controlled. All decisions are made in one place, by one group. All customers must buy and sell to only one entity. A communist economy is a monopoly.
Microsoft is a monopoly. It isn’t a government mandated monopoly like a communist monopoly, so there is a possibility of escape. But whether a monopoly is created by government fiat or use of corporate financial size, the problems with monopolies are exactly the same. Centralized decision making is ALWAYS abused.
Microsoft is centralized. FOSS is decentralized. Which is most similar to a communist economy, and which a free market?
“Socialism does NOT work, people who are trying to force this mess down your throat are thinking they are the superior ones, and you are inferior.”
Socialism of what type? I would go as far as stating that socialism without freedom (eg. Marxism) is almost as good as ‘freedom’ without socialism (eg. Capitalism). What’s so good about freedom if you can’t afford healthcare and thus can’t enjoy being free?
Also, it’s not about destination, path matters. Forced democracy in many areas of the world has collapsed rather quickly. Iraq would be in same state then many of the African countries, nobody caring about massacres, starvation and tyranny, if they only would not have oil. Captialism is good?
How can one use terrorism (in it’s traditional sense) to get freedom? Lenin and Bush were wrong there.
Education and therefore care for others and environment shall be the way to the future, not yet another tyranny.
“This is very confusing, going ‘el cheapo’ is not the best answer, having different hardware, software is more costly because of all the in house ‘special’ programming ‘middleware’ that is required.”
Did I say anything about cheap?
No, of course not. I talked about picking the best choice amongst alternatives. Best includes all costs, including support. But you can’t standardize on the best choice amongst alternatives unless you have alternatives.
Perhaps this is too confusing to you. I’ll bring out the dreaded vehicle analogy. You and I agree that there are benefits to standardization. When you talk about a company standardizing on Windows for all computers, I’m thinking abou a company that standardizes on Ford for all vehicles. I agree that it may make sense for that company to standardize on Ford for all light trucks. I don’t think that it makes sense for them to standardize on Ford for long distance tractor-trailers; Kenworth or International may be better choices – including lower support costs.
In addition, establishing a preferred vendor relationship with Ford for light trucks works only as long as Ford knows that you can switch to GM or Dodge. If Ford drops a model that you need, you can switch. If Fords wear out faster than GMs, you can switch. It will cost you to switch, so you only do it when the cost of switching is less than the cost of staying.
Microsoft makes the cost of switching very high. That means that they can make the cost of staying almost that high. That’s not a good relationship. It’s a typical monopoly relationship.
Standardization on a platform lowers the support costs for that platform. But if other platforms have lower support costs to begin with, then standardizing on the wrong platform can raise support costs. In every case that I’ve seen, standardizing on Windows for everything did exactly that. Standardization is a local optimization, not a global one. It makes sense to standardize on a single web server platform. It does not make sense to use the same platform for desktops and web servers; Microsoft doesn’t, and neither should you.
“I am not sure what country you are refering to but the United States is a Free Republic.”
I’m not referring to any country. I’m talking about economics.
Corporations are economic entities. So are governments. Governments have many powers beyond the economic, but those aren’t the issue here. The article that Eugenia linked to raised the issues of socialism, monopolies, and business models. If we confine ourselves to looking at the economic side of government, we can see that corporations and governments share many features.
In any organization, control can be concentrated at the center, or it can be spread out closer to those affected by the decisions. The root cause of the failure of Communism is the centralization of power. In the Soviet Union, all important decisions were made in Moscow, not at the local level. In the United States, many important decisions are made at the city, county, an state levels. The US is far more centralized now than it was before WWII, but it’s still decentralized compared to the old Soviet Union. It is clear that centralization can go too far and become grossly inefficient.
If you look at the organization of Microsoft and the free and open source community, then Microsoft is far more centralized. All important decisions are made in Redmond. The FOSS community is decentralized. The decisions are made closer to the users, in many cases, by the users. Those decisions then filter up from the bottom, not down from the top like Microsoft. Microsoft developers do what their managers direct them to do, for purposes that serve Microsoft’s interests. Open source developers work on what they wish to, and managers are really coordinators rather than managers. When they make poor decisions (XFree86), the developers pick different coordinators (x.org) and move on. At Microsoft, a poor manager will be replaced if and only if Bill Gates wants to replace him. Top down, centralized control versus bottom up, decetralized control.
In theory, centralized command and control hierarchies are more efficient. In practice, decentralized decision making is more efficient, as decisions are most often made by those most directly affected by the decisions.
Microsost is a centralized, top down organization. So was the Soviet Union.
FOSS is decentralized. So are free markets.
If any software supplier suffers the same exact defects as socialism, it’s Microsoft, not open source software. Microsoft is a monopoly in an otherwise free market economy, and as such, it’s behavior more closely resembles other monopolies, such as socialist governments.
Linux and OSS adoption won’t happen over night and there won’t be any magic bullets. But slowly it is being adopted for one reason or another by this company or that. The reason Linux and OSS will eventually rise to the top is that they have a more effective development model, the sharing of knowledge.
“I do not recall Microsoft ever forcing a ‘business customer’ to choose their solutions or software. Also, where are the TCO studies and stats to back up this claim that it is higher?”
Learn how to read. Microsoft themselves have been putting out stories that say that you shouldn’t switch from Windows to Linux because the cost of retraining is too high. I’m just pointing out that another way to avoid that cost is to not pick Microsoft in the first place, since it’s so expensive to switch away from them.
Switching from Microsoft to SUSE will require significant retraining costs. Switching from Red Hat to SUSE requires minimal retraining costs. Any decent TCO study should include not only the training costs going into a solution, but also the costs when leaving that solution.
I did not claim that Microsoft forced anyone to choose their solutions. Please retract that misstatement. What I claimed was that when a business chose a Microsoft solution, that they should factor in the costs that would be incurred if and when they moved of off Microsoft. It is well-known economic principle that any company, not just Microsoft, will keep its prices just under the point where customers would save money by switching. That means that the higher the cost of switching, then the higher the cost of staying. That’s a market economy at work, and that’s how it should work. But it’s a poor businessman who doesn’t see a high barrier to switching as a trap.
“This comment about Microsoft being more expensive is more from dislike than a fact. Another ‘FUD’ comment put out by the ‘free’ software Socialist group.”
Please withdraw this personal attack. I am no more a Socialist than you, and have refrained from making comments about you, confining myself to the issues. Competition is what makes free markets work so well. It all depends on choosing among multiple suppliers. A supplier who behaves badly is punished by the market as customers go elsewhere.
A monopoly is defined as a supplier who, for whatever reason, can ignore the market effects of bad behavior. Microsoft was found to be a monopoly (which is legal), and to have used that monopoly to extend the monopoly into new areas (which is not legal). Markets can’t correct bad behavior by monopolies.
Socialist governments are monopolies, which leads to bad behavior. Microsoft is a monopoly, which leads to bad behavior. Monopolies always act badly, they can’t help it.
Free and Open Source Software is in essence software developed directly by the end users. It’s as close to a free market as you can get. Bad behavior is quickly punished. If a developer makes a poor decision, you can switch to another developer, and the cost of switching is very low. Your new developer can even use the first developer’s code from before he screwed up. The freedom in Free Software is the same freedom as in Free Market.
I don’t recall RedHat’s value proposition having anything to do with ideology.
This once again is someone attempting to look insightful by debunking what isn’t there.
>> Socialism does NOT work
The US is the most socialized nation in the world translated as raw dollars in pension funds and mutual funds, and future entitlements to social benefits, and spending on education. Yes the US is also the third most populous nation, but the fact remains that the percentage of all wealth controlled by the wealthiest one percent is far lower today in the US than it was a century ago.
The US also has one of the largest govt sectors – last count is somewhere near 30% of the economy is driven by the govt.
The US also has the most stringent scheme in place for subsidizing dead industries (farming etc).
Its worth noting this anytime you hear anyone get on a high horse about US capitalism.
and establish a Politics section. Maybe Eugenia can make some money selling flame-retardant underwear to posters. God knows, she won’t lack for potential customers.
>> YES the Government helps out Farmers. Since the FACT that the United States feeds half the world with aid
Get real. The produce at my supermarket is from Chile even though I am within driving distance of the argicultrural heartland of the US (California’s Castro Valley – once the source of 25% of all produce in the US)
>> it is the taxpayers paying for this, it is not free. I own about 200 acres in which I own cattle but it is my Business and I own it and run it. The Government does not dicate to me how many hours I work it, how much I can make off of it, or how long I can own it.
I am not sure the govt is involved in Cattle farming, but as far as I am concerned you should get the same protection I get from foreign competition as a programmer – NONE. The US is the nation that shoved “free trade” down the world’s throat after all.
What I love is how the US govt subsidizes tobacco farmers and then sues the cigarette makers. Hel-lo! This is the kind of crap I am talking about. Or how cotton is subsidized. Hel-lo! Why can’t I just import it from India? Will society collapse if we lose our ability to grow cotton?
<>I do not recall Microsoft ever forcing a ‘business customer’ to choose their solutions or software.
Simple. If everyone else in you industry uses their software to produce documents in a format that no other software can read, in a way that is difficult to reverse engineer, then you are forced to buy their software simply to be on the same level. Microsoft Word is an excellent example of this, and it’s what they attempted to do – with varying levels of success – with Internet Explorer.
The company I work in has just finished a study with which OS to go: Linux or MS Windows.
The Result was: Linux would have been cheaper by 40% if ALL application software were supported in Linux. Using things like Terminal servers (as we do now for our last remaining HP-UX Workstations) or tinkering around with VM, WINE and the likes to get the LAST TWO applications (and I am not talking about Office) runnig ruined the picture, our sytem administrators figured it would be either too complicated or too expensive to get all that into centralized software management tools.
My conclusion from this is: If you have all apps available NATIVELY in linux you would be a complete idiot NOT to use it, since it is way cheaper (I am talking about TCO here). If some apps are missing take a careful evaluation which OS is the better solution. Always remember that VM requires a Windows install and WINE and other emulating solutions might work with the current application, but might not with future releases.
“Quit with that stepping [stuff]!”
Using things like Terminal servers (as we do now for our last remaining HP-UX Workstations) or tinkering around with VM, WINE and the likes to get the LAST TWO applications (and I am not talking about Office) runnig ruined the picture, our sytem administrators figured it would be either too complicated or too expensive to get all that into centralized software management tools.>>
After the last wave of worms and viruses hammered the campus, I asked the Systems person who came to fix my machine when we’d be switching to Linux. (He’s one of our two Unix guys.)
He told me I was not being funny and to please not scare him that way.
This is a guy who uses Slackware at home for all his comptuers, so it’s not like he doesn’t know what it takes to get a Linux system up and running.
quite possibly, yes. this is the reason all european nations subsidize farming, and why Japan subsidises rice production through artifically high fixed prices and a bar on imports. it makes absolutely no economic sense for food production to occur in developed economies, but economic sense isn’t what governments are concerned with; environmental and cultural issues are far more important. what would be the social, environmental and cultural impact of a complete cessation of artificial support for farming in developed economies? massive. think about it for a while…
Well, I can assure anyone who thinks opensource is socialist, I’ve correct that view on my blog: