Open Source: Why Do Some Folks Not Want You to Do Your Homework?

Rob Enderle

I'm struck by the comments that are coming in to some of my pieces.


The latest series on the GPL 3.0 is basically my attempt to get people involved in the drafting of a contract I don't think they will be able to avoid. In addition, if they are going to fall under this contract they, or a legal expert they trust, should read it and determine how best to protect their companies under it. This is because, unlike a license from a corporation like Microsoft, where change is sometimes possible, under the GPL I'm not aware of any possibility that the license can be altered on a case-by-case basis.


I provided a link that indicated some folks were actually violating their own company's policy and using Open Source products under the earlier GPL. The reason these policies were apparently written was evidently because their legal departments felt the risk exceeded the benefit. This shouldn't surprise anyone, as different attorneys often come to different conclusions for a variety of reasons, and I'm sure most of us have met attorneys who simply will not approve contracts they can't alter.


To make this argument I did feel I needed to remind folks that a license is specialized form of contract. But, once policy is set, it's a corporate law, and violating a policy like this generally comes with some rather extreme risks.


No Hidden Microsoft Agenda


But my recommendation had nothing to do with Microsoft. In fact, and I don't know how many times I've said this, I think the general choice people are making is between UNIX and Linux right now, and not between Windows and Linux. The GPL is probably one of the reasons people are choosing UNIX over Linux, and the fact that Sun is currently gaining market share at least suggests there may be some related concerns about Linux as a product, or about the upcoming GPL 3.0 it probably will fall under.


Windows Server, from what I can tell, appears to be primarily displacing itself or Netware because, in both cases, it is the more natural replacement for those platforms -- which clearly has created a problem for Novell. Maybe concerns over the GPL 3.0 draft are moving folks to Windows, but if true, I'm not seeing that personally. If someone is seeing that I'd love to hear from you.


Do Smart IT Mangers Choose Microsoft?


Ever since I started writing on open source and Linux my message has generally been not directed at either platform but at making measured, well thought-out and defensible decisions. I'll tell you to read the small print, understand the dependencies in your company, and make sure if a third party (manager, internal auditor, etc.) asks you why you did something, you have an answer well-founded solid business values.


This is because I used to be an internal auditor before audit gained its recent power and, even in my time, executives who couldn't meet this standard often found themselves out on the street. I also feel that this is the way it should be. There are simply too many people not doing quality work and violating their own companies policies right now.


I've seen way too many decision-makers make decisions for the wrong reasons. Some are religious, some are because of their incentives (I've actually seen some IT folks get brand new cars and executive jobs as a result of favorable vendor decisions), and some are because they believe the grass must be greener on the other side.


I've watched a lot of companies and jobs go down the drain as a result, and feel strongly that much of that could be avoided if folks would just do complete staff work before a decision is made rather than the more typical, make the decision and then ask for CYA later.


Are Open Source Users Stupid?


This advice, to make thoughtful decisions, angers at least some of the open source folks who seem to think that people who think and make measured decisions will always pick Microsoft.


Look at the comments: few who attack me personally even mention the points I'm making, they just call me a few names and say I'm shilling for Microsoft. Their message appears to be: "Don't make measured decisions because if you do you'll play into Microsoft's strategy." Think about it: if the advice they are fighting is to make measured decisions, aren't they really saying smart decision makers choose Microsoft so avoid getting smart?


Now if this were Microsoft saying this, you'd have every right, and probably be right, to say it was BS. But, these are Open Source backers saying this, and that makes the words very powerful. They actually appear to be afraid that if you do your homework, you won't buy into their beliefs. That's worth thinking about at least.


If Open Source Folks Lie Should You Buy Microsoft Instead?


Seriously, after watching this for a while, that would probably be the conclusion I would draw. If folks are willing to go to this much trouble to cover things up to get you to buy their argument and products they must be crap, right?


But the truth is they are just trying to manipulate you, and it doesn't matter which side does that, it is your job to pick what is best for your company.


I actually think open source tends to foster an elitist attitude, much like a priesthood, where the followers are encouraged to listen to the priests and not actually read the religious works themselves. I think Iran, Iraq, and the Holy Wars are probably really good examples of why that is not in your best interest.


Linux and Open Source have been around for awhile; they can stand on their own merits and while they aren't good for everything -- you should hear some of the embedded hardware engineers go off on Linux, for instance -- they clearly are successful for good reason when they make sense.


Like any other tool, it is simply learning how, and where, to use them most productively. With open source you have the unique privilege of being truly knowledgeable, much more so than with most proprietary offerings, so why would you give that up to strangers on their say so?


The First Rule in Picking Open Source


One of the first things you should do if you are going to back open source is make sure you actually have someone that can and will make use of the fact the source code is open. If not, treat it like any other product that has a feature you aren't going to use. I mean, do you pick Windows Server because it will run Media Player?


Of course not, if you aren't actually going to look at source that feature is just as pointless to you (and if you are but not going to change it, you can often do the same with a proprietary offering now).


You can then focus on the things the product actually does that you need it to do, and here you may find that Solaris, AIX, HPUX, or even BSD is a better choice for an OS depending on what you are doing, and yes, in a Windows shop, you'll probably still conclude Windows Server is generally best. But, the choice is yours to make; don't give that power up to anyone.


Finding Perfection


There is no perfect product, each has its own unique benefits and pitfalls, and there is enough information out there on any of the mature platforms (and I'm not suggesting Linux isn't mature here) to make an informed decision.


All I'm suggesting is that you make an informed decision; I'm not even suggesting which product or company to include in the pool of things you choose from. That appears to be coming from the open source advocates who too often seem to have "or else" after their recommendations. Your best defense is knowledge and decisions you can back up with hard facts, not questionable opinions.


For the folks who don't want you to do that, think for a moment -- aren't they really saying informed buyers will choose something else? Don't buy the religion, find facts you can trust, and make your decisions accordingly.


Your employees, company, and career will likely be better for it.

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