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The business case: open source maturity


on 26 September 2012

Like nearly all companies around the world, our business has benefited massively from open source technology. Samba has helped us allow Windows users upload and share their work on the company intranet. The intranet webservers themselves run on Apache, with a MySQL database supporting a sales team portal. These technologies are invaluable to us as a business. Sure there are bugs, but our proprietary software also has issues. We can get fixes quicker for the open source software.

Given our success with open source software, I find it astounding that we don’t use it more in our business. Our cloud platforms and desktop operating system would all benefit from some open source magic. But whenever we suggest this, the same line comes back from senior managers: open source is immature, lacks features, lacks support and is not fit for mainstream applications in the business. With all the evidence in favour of open source adoption, how can I dispel myths about its lack of maturity?


Google uses Ubuntu desktop to support tens of thousands of employees, from developers to graphic designers to translators. Pointing out one of the fastest growing brands in history bet the farm on an open source desktop operating system won’t harm your cause. It might just sow seeds of doubt in the most blinkered individuals.

Google uses its own edition of Ubuntu, rather wackily christened Goobuntu Your managers may say Google is a special case: it is essentially a software firm, so it should be able to handle the esoteric demands of open source operating systems.

They would be right, Google is a special case, but many ways that underscores how Ubuntu is ready for the enterprise desktop.

For a start, downtime costs the company dearly. A reboot for all of its work stations would cost around a million dollars, says Google engineer Thomas Bushnell.

Software engineer time at Google is clearly pretty valuable, but it is by no means the only firm with users who cost more per hour than a London black cab. Lawyers? Management consultants? Tax accountants? If it is good enough for Google, then surely it is good enough for supporting these groups.

Another key point Bushnell makes is security. Google is not only responsible for protecting its own code, but code from a whole range of business partners. Now, this code does not reside on the desktop, but security could be compromised there. What’s more Google is a pretty high profile security target for hackers. That’s a solid endorsement of Ubuntu as a secure operating system.

Managers will always want to see case studies and Google is a good place to start. But it’s also good to work a little closer to home. Figure out who is using open source more widely in your part of the world and talk to them. Makes sure you don’t just get the technical lowdown. Ensure you get a grasp of the resulting business benefits of any open source investment. Many open source development communities will carry a list of user case studies. Ubuntu, for example, has one here.

Get hold of as much documentation as you can about your IT strategy and how it fits with business strategy. Work backwards from that to show how open source can help meet strategic objectives. Then bring in the case studies you have researched to support your claims.
Pick your battles. No business with 10,000 Microsoft desktops is going to replace them with open source at the drop of a hat. But there are opportunities in any business for doing things differently. Seize them. They may come with the business needs to do something quickly and cannot wait for protracted commercial negotiations.

Lastly, manage your own expectations. This is a war of attrition, not shock and awe. So go easy on yourself and take it one step at a time. You will find that after a while, your achievements start to add up.

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