VSJ – June 2009 – Sounding Board

Robin Jones wonders why open source solutions appear to have lower acceptance in the UK than elsewhere.

“Nobody ever got fired”, the saying used to go, “for buying IBM.”

Well, no. But why not? What has the supplier got to do with it? This line of thinking smacks of getting one’s excuses in first. If the system falls over, at least the designer can say, “Well, I specified the best kit available. It can’t be my fault.” It certainly can, chum. And, by the way, what did you mean by ‘best’? Most expensive?

My thoughts were nudged in this direction by a recent Novell/IDC report on the worldwide state of open source software and Linux in particular. More than two-thirds of the IT executives surveyed for the study said that they were actively evaluating, or had already decided to adopt, Linux for the desktop. Over 70% said the same for servers. More than half were increasing Linux adoption during 2009. Definitive UK-specific data are difficult to come by, but a recent vnunet reader survey suggested that around 15% of installations are running Linux at present, not, by the looks of it, a world-leading performance.

So what are the pros and cons? On the plus side, initial costs are low and that may matter even more than usual in straitened economic circumstances. On the other hand, there’s the expense of staff retraining to factor in. Interestingly though, respondents to  the Novell survey cited lower ongoing support costs as a reason for swapping to Linux. That suggests they’re seeing the current crop of distros as much more mature than their forebears.

Back on the debit side, there are understandable concerns about lack of application support and interoperability with Windows. But the trend towards cloud computing is chipping away at the former problem. Why? Because it has a lingua franca in the form of a Web browser as its default communication channel. Let me give you a personal example. I’ve never been able to find a satisfactory Linux application to synchronise my Palm Treo’s address and calendar data to my desktop. Then I discovered Goosync, which synchronises directly between my Google calendar and the Treo. That’s an even better method that a straight sync-to-desktop solution because now I can sync the Treo or the desktop to the cloud database any time I like, so neither need ever be out of date. And I get an extra backup copy into the bargain.

Why then the apparent reticence of UK companies to take the Linux route? I wonder if it’s at least partly a modern version of the IBM adage, with an extra twist. It isn’t just that you can’t be blamed for following the crowd. It’s that an open source solution is effectively offered by a huge community. So there’s no one specific to point your finger at, should that become necessary. What this ignores, as I hinted at to begin with, is that a finger-pointing exercise is very rarely productive anyway.

[Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.]

Comments are closed.