Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why companies like open source software

While this isn't related to the usability of open source software, I wanted to share this reflection about Linux in the enterprise. Companies take free software and open source software seriously. I can speak firsthand to this; I have introduced free software systems to every company I've worked for.

At my first job, I replaced aging Apollo/DOMAIN systems with low-cost Linux systems, running Slackware Pro. While we weren't ready to adopt Linux for everyone's desktop, we did deploy Linux to a few of our R&D developers. At my second company, I implemented Red Hat Linux 3.03 to provide DNS, NIS, NFS, and other core infrastructure services. And when I joined the University of Minnesota (in 1998) I introduced Linux for the first time in the university enterprise, replacing a 3-node IBM AIX SP system to support web registration. It was an immediate success, and changed the perception of "Linux in the enterprise" within the institution.

In each case, I did not "just" decide to bring Linux into the company. IT needs to be in support of the business; we cannot drive change simply for the sake of IT. So before I introduced Linux, I presented a business case for how free software would support the business. It wasn't all about saving money, although that was certainly one benefit. Rather, using free software was about modernizing the infrastructure, and streamlining operations. That is something any business professional can support.

These ideas are supported in a recent article from Howard Baldwin at ComputerWorld: "4 reasons companies say yes to open source." Baldwin's article presents a good overview of how companies perceive the value of free software and open source software. From the article:
When individual developers think of open source, they think "free." And with good cause: Who in their right mind wouldn't be interested in technology that they can get at no cost and use with few licensing restrictions?

When companies think of open source, these days they think "business agility," a quality they increasingly value above all others in the fast-changing marketplace.
According to the article, four key reasons why companies are taking open source software seriously:
  1. Open source keeps costs down
  2. Open source improves quality
  3. Open source delivers business agility
  4. Open source mitigates business risk
photo: Steve Wilson

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