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How to overcome hidden barriers to open source adoption

Paul Rubens | Aug. 13, 2014
Your organisation may be unintentionally biased against free software. Here's how to recognise and overcome that bias -- in procurement agreements as well as in IT departments.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Ten years ago, open source advocates faced an uphill battle when they tried to implement free software in an organization, while proprietary vendors such as Microsoft spoke out publicly and fiercely against it. Barriers to implementation included worries about security, support, warranties and indemnities, and concerns that the quality of software that was freely available would be inferior to that produced on a commercial basis and licensed for a fee.

A decade later, the landscape has changed considerably. The open source model is well-established and far better understood, and a huge proportion of companies use open source software somewhere in their IT operations.

One reason is that many of the concerns have disappeared. A recent Future of Open Source Survey found that 72 percent of respondents use open source software because they believe it provides better security than proprietary alternatives, and 80 percent believe it offers better quality than proprietary software.

These survey findings correspond with the day-to-day experience of IT professionals such as Mark Winiberg, whose company, Charter Software, offers open source deployment and training. "Ten years ago, open source software was a hard sell," he says. "These days, I am simply not seeing the same level of opposition to it."

Procurement Policies Often Biased Against Open Source
That's not to say that barriers to open source software have disappeared completely. There's evidence, for example, that many organizations' software procurement policies are still designed for a world of proprietary software and therefore make open source solutions problematic to use.

Examples of this are policies dictating that any prospective vendor's financial figures be scrutinized, and that the vendor must have been in business for three years. How do you scrutinize the financials of an open source project?

Clearly, this type of policy needs updating to reflect the reality of the open source world and to prevent open source software from being effectively ruled out, says Simon Phipps, the president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), a nonprofit that advocates open source software.

Even when procurement policies don't rule out open source solutions explicitly in this way, they often still have an unintentional bias towards proprietary software, according to Mark Johnson, development manager at OSS Watch, a body that provides advice on open source software.

"It may be that the way solutions are investigated by organizations actually favors companies that get license fees and are therefore able to offer presales support. Because the business models work differently, you may have to pay a company to come in and do a demonstration of an open source solution," Johnson says.


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