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Support your IT staff in choosing open source

Dave Richards from Largo, Florida has posted an excellent article on supporting your local governmental IT staff when they choose open source. Mr. Richards points out the obvious cost savings in choosing free software but makes some other excellent points.

Mr. Richards points out that it's ok for an organization to have training classes learning the new version of Office, but learning the differences in OpenOffice is unacceptable. This is an excellent, excellent point. Why, in corporate culture or public servitude, are such practices acceptable, and why aren't more organizations open to, well, open source.

TCO

TCO, or total cost of ownership, is the a fairly new corporate buzz word used in an attempt to shoot down any perceived move towards non mainstream technology with a single acronym. In any meeting with non-technical people, the acronym TCO is sure to be brought up when talking about moving away from Cisco, Novell or the dreaded Microsoft among other companies. TCO is plastered all over Microsoft's get the facts campaign.

Linux is scary because it's specialized, it's efficient, it's stable and it has a powerful shell. Many Microsoft trained system administrators believe they are doing something wrong, or missing something and need to study more if they aren't constantly patching their systems using a GUI. These types of administrators are used to having to do daily work on a server, so doing this type of a work on a command line must be scary. And it would be using the Window's shell.

But as any half-way experienced Linux administrator knows, it's not that scary and there is plenty of help. I can almost guarantee that, after only 30 days, any system administrator can be trained using the Linux shell and be many times more efficient than using a GUI in Windows.

Seriously, after using Linux for my desktop and as a server administrator (even just in practice), it's frustrating using windows. I'm not referring to bugs in the software, although they are very annoying. I find it very hard to put into words, but Windows just lacks the specialization, control and is designed with some annoying nuances.

The threat of copyright

Again, another campaign bolstered by Microsoft's efforts, some individuals and companies have claimed that some open source projects contained copyrighted material, or violates existing or even new copyrights...such as the double click. This ridiculous patent is, in my opinion, akin to patenting the action of pressing the gas pedal by Ford.

Many corporations, not wishing to be sued, stick with the "safe" copyrighted software. I don't believe any of these lawsuits are going anywhere, nor do I remember any of them turning out favorable for the plaintiff.

Perceived lack of support

Most true open source products have free, community driven support and many companies don't trust this. But believe me, if someone posts an incorrect answer on a forum or incorrectly edits a wiki, it is corrected quickly.

I have more of a problem getting support for a Microsoft product and even worse of a time with a Novell product. It is true that open source projects make some money from professional support, but most do little to stifle other support efforts. So how many support incidents come with a copy of Windows XP before one must pay for support again?

Perceived difficulty of use and lack of compatibility

Here they have a point...five years ago. Linux has made leaps and bounds in the areas of ease of use, compatibility, documentation and support tools like wikis, forums and encouragement of community contribution. Projects like Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Firefox and LikeWise strive for automation, compatibility and user friendliness, and succeed. These projects are often times superior to their proprietary counterparts.

There is no reason an entire school could not deploy Edubuntu desktops and be just as productive, while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in licensing, support and headaches. Five years ago, I would have said there is a place for Windows and Microsoft for ease of use and compatibility, but in 2008 comparing the recent release of Vista and the latest release of Ubuntu, it just isn't so.

When your IT department suggests using the latest open source project, please stifle the ingrained, knee jerk reaction developed from years of reading "expert" Microsoft evangelists and listen to them. They are paid for a reason, and I guarantee you'll like what they bring to the table.