Sydney LinuxWorld: Business ignorance challenges open source

Sydney LinuxWorld: Business ignorance challenges open source

Open source software is becoming more pervasive worldwide, but its biggest challenge may be the business community's failure to embrace it, according to Linux International executive director Jon ‘Maddog’ Hall.

During his keynote address on Monday at the Linuxworld Conference and Expo in Sydney, Maddog said the biggest challenge to open source is "people not thinking".

"People are accepting what companies say about software and not questioning it," he said. "Business is about managing risk and if people don't let you control the software, you have given up control of your business."

Maddog was almost seminal in his appraisal of free and open source software (FOSS), saying although a lot of people think free software is gratis, there's "no such thing as a free lunch".

"Free software is the freedom to use software for whatever purpose [and] the only freedom we don't allow is the freedom to limit another person's freedom," he said. "[Vendors] are afraid customers will go elsewhere if they're not locked in. But this is slavery."

Maddog reminisced about times pre-1980 when most software was created as a service and there was no "shrink wrap" market.

"When the microcomputer came in, people wanted to mass-produce software and hardware [so] we started thinking about software as a commodity — which is like a can of corn," he said. "But a car is not a commodity as it has to fit your needs [and] still needs to be safe and give good mileage. A car is not a commodity."

With this analogy, Maddog said he has not seen a business problem that is a commodity, because they are all different, even if only slightly in some cases.

"Software companies don't always have your best business interests at heart," he said. "When you have the source code you can make a business decision to invest in a solution or make it fit your business. You're the one in control."

Maddog said proprietary products disappear through mergers and if the business doesn't have the source code it can't make the business decision to support it until a suitable migration path is determined.

"Closed source software is failing now; it's just that we don't see it. If you're selling insurance do you think what accounting system, or database, or fleet of cars your sales force is using matters to customers? If you can reduce the cost of software you can pass that onto customers or put in your pocket."

In response to the claim by software companies that services doesn't scale, Maddog said it doesn't scale for vendors and "that's their problem".

"Most people want a service, but proprietary products can't deliver that because they're trying to meet so many requests at one time," he said.

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