In Open Source and Cloud Computing, Beware of the Curve Ball

Dennis Byron

It is interesting to see the recent uptake in coverage in IT in mainstream media (MSM) outlets such as The Economist. The venerable magazine published two apparently linked pieces during the week of May 23 about open source computing and cloud computing.


It's good for you when something you work with every day gets that sort of attention in media read by your upper management. On the other hand, superficial discussions about IT in the MSM can mean problems for you if your bosses are reading them and think there is some silver bullet out there in terms of cost savings or better use of corporate resources that you've been missing all these years.


The thrust of the two articles is that the distinction between open source and closed source software has blurred and that cloud computing depends on open source software, but that "moving from one (cloud) service provider to another could be even more difficult than switching between software packages in the old (proprietary software) days."


There's a hint of truth in the way I summed up the articles just as there are hints of truth in the articles. But my summary and the points in The Economist articles are not logical. For example, open source software is not required to enable cloud computing; losing that link knocks down the whole house of cards. And The Economist articles depend on a series of half-truths to reach their hints of truth. For example, traditional software firms are not just "beginning to dabble" in open source and the implication that open source software is mostly created by volunteers is not true. The "traditional software" firms have been leading the way in both open source and cloud computing from the beginning; they provide the "volunteers." There's nothing wrong about that, but don't let your management come away from such magazine pieces thinking there are alternatives out there that you have been ignoring.


In its wording, the magazine was careful not to be explicit about the role of volunteers in open source software development, which leads me to the conclusion that these articles are what is known among journalists as "pitched" stories. In a pitched story, the overall message is something that a public relations agent wanted published on behalf of a client. He or she goes to the columnist or reporter (in The Economist's case, no author is listed online) and pitches the idea, provides spokespeople from the client, points the columnist at other spokespeople who will echo the theme, and provide some pro and con background. In this case, the con is the oft-mentioned line about Microsoft calling open source "a cancer." But the context of that long-ago Microsoft comment was basically aimed at one of over three dozen different open source licenses.


I have nothing against the idea of being pitched, as I noted in this recent comment on an article by IT Business Edge editor Ken-Hardin.But always try to determine if there is an agenda behind an article. For my part, I'll tell you when something I write is potentially a curve ball or right down the middle.

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