Open Source: Open? For business?

The Problem

Windows is expensive; Microsoft is a monopoly (some say); Redmond makes apps for the enterprise, but not your enterprise.

The Hype

Linux has gained ground owing to well-publicized installations at companies such as Cendant, Dominion Resources and Schlumberger, plus backing from heavyweight vendors including IBM. Who knows what else open-source software can do for you?

The Facts

It’s very difficult to find anyone who criticizes the technical quality of Linux. By all reports, it’s at least as scalable and secure as Windows?if not significantly more so. Nevertheless, Linux still has a big hurdle to jump before it gets beyond niche status in corporate America. The hurdle isn’t technical?it’s perceptual.

"There is a sort of stigma" attached to open-source software in the more conservative corners of the business world, says Michele Rosen, program manager at IDC. "In today’s world, where people have so much information to process, preconceptions can be a detriment," adds Rosen (who speaks positively about the actual quality of the software).

In fact, the most commonly touted benefits of open source (it’s cheap?and you can modify the code) are precisely what creates the poor perception in some corners. Modifying or extending an operating system is the last thing most CIOs want to do. Actually, it is a bit of a red herring for conservative companies who mistakenly think that’s the major selling point for open source. The real advantage comes from the communal development process, which has yielded good, efficient code.

Apache’s open-source program has surmounted the perception problem, accounting for more than half the Web servers in use today, according to oft-cited statistics compiled by Netcraft (www.netcraft.com). But sneaking a bit of open-source software into the Web admins’ server farm has proven easier than getting onto the servers and desktops running the ERP system. It’s a task that Linux should prove equal to, given time, but the adoption rate continues to lag behind the hype.

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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