TechRepublic: “10 ways to sell corporate on Linux

This article was written almost a year ago, but that doesn’t matter much, in my opinion, as its presented as arguments that can be made, regardless of when, and regardless of what may have changed. Many of his arguments have been ripped at in the comments section, especially in the case of this comment, but I’ll give my 2-cents here and voice my opinion. I should also point out that many of his arguments are nothing more than repetitions of countless other articles trying to also “sell” Linux in the corporate world.

Let’s start with this jewel, of which I’ve heard many variations over the years:

But the best thing about Linux applications is that they’re open source. If there’s something about the application that doesn’t suit your needs, you can change it. If you have the developers in house, more than likely they can adapt an application to do something perfectly suited for your company. Imagine taking a free application and reworking it so that it’s exactly the application you need (down to the look and feel).

This argument provides several implications, whether intended by the author or not. First is the implication that there are no open source applications for Windows, and any Windows user who’s browsed around the Internet knows this is not the case. OpenOffice is available for Windows, and so is GIMP. And of course there’s Mozilla as well. But Windows actually provides more freedom for software distribution over Linux because you’re not forced to make your application open source, unless you use a library with that kind of licensing model, but I digress.

Along with this is the implication that all applications for Linux are open source, another item that he’s pointed out in other blog posts is not true. There are plenty of closed-source and proprietary applications for Linux. I wonder what RMS says about that – seeing proprietary software, which he makes no secret about despising, running on what was supposed to be the OS of his open source movement.

Jack also makes the implication that software is easy to change. Yeah right. If so, I’d be making modifications to OpenOffice to make up for what it doesn’t provide. My biggest frustration with OpenOffice is the lack of postal bar code printing for envelopes. That is one reason, among others, I stick with Word. And why do I care about postal bar codes? Because postal bar codes allow for faster processing and sorting of mail, allowing the check for my car payment (I can’t pay it online right now without a hefty fee) to get where it needs to go quicker. If you want a way to save the USPS some money this year, start printing your envelopes with postal bar codes. Oh wait, except if you’re using OpenOffice, you can’t, not without fidgeting with barcode fonts and other pieces of information! But I digress again.

Anyway, changing software requires many things. I am a software engineer, and I’ve written and developed my own software, along with modifying open source software that is available. To change software, you first have to understand its source code. For some projects, this may not be very time consuming, for others (like OpenOffice or anything else large-scale), it’ll be very time consuming. You will require time to study it, and while documentation can help with some details, without engineering diagrams to go with it, time will be required on the part of the person or team that will be modifying the code. This task only becomes more difficult with the larger projects. How many people or companies are going to do this?

I remember one person in a ZDNet comment area say something similar to “Well if you want a feature that’s not in OpenOffice, then add it yourself.” I remember thinking to myself, “He obviously doesn’t write software”. There is not only modification to the code, but possibly modifications to the GUI. It’s a complicated situation that can be saved by finding software with the features you’re looking for.

“Imagine taking a free application and reworking it so it’s exactly the application you need.” Yeah, then imagine trying to justify the time spent to corporate when you sell them on a piece of software that falls short in many ways. This is where cost of ownership can really be offset by buying a package like Microsoft Office. How so?

Let’s say you have a team of 10 engineers who each make $50K per year. Imagine it takes them approximately 6 months to add a feature to your in-house copy of Open Office, going through the entire engineering process. This means you’ve essentially spent $250K on this one feature. If the engineers already have some understanding of the Open Office source code, then some money is saved, and if they don’t, then more money is probably spent. What if you need more than one feature added? See how it really starts adding up?

Looking at Jack’s profile on TechRepublic, I don’t see any mention of him writing software or being involved with software development, so his fumbling on this idea is not all too surprising, but it’s something he could’ve researched or at least pondered a little more before saying “you can just modify the software if it doesn’t suit your needs.” I’m afraid not, Jack.

And this is true even with other open-source packages. I use Windows Live Writer to write posts for this blog. I could’ve gone with an open-source tool like Zoundry Raven, but I decided on Live Writer because, after trying out a lot of different tools, I felt this one suited me the best. Sure, it’s not open source, but it’s a situation where I bypassed an open-source tool in favor of another freeware application. Sure, I could’ve modified Zoundry to add what I needed, but why when I found something else?

So going back to his first statement, “TCO is bunk”, I think I’ve pretty much shown that it’s more than bunk, depending on what you’re going to do. He is right in that most companies aren’t going to spend money training an IT staff — not when ITT Tech is putting out reasonably-qualified individuals who don’t need training, except in specific procedures relevant to the company and their environment.

Jack also says, “once Linux is up and running, you won’t be wasting precious time fixing, patching, or solving security issues.” Except he seems to forget that the applications running on the system might compromise the security of the system. Open source does not mean “secure by default”, otherwise Mozilla wouldn’t have to patch exploits and release security updates. Same with Apache.

Speaking of security, he also says “Administration is world wide”. Not if the firewall is configured to not allow it — something he doesn’t mention in his article. And why did he use an anecdote of the “Love Bug” virus (which was 7 years old at the time of his posting) to talk about the security of Linux?

First, any server should be properly configured for remote administration, whether it’s Linux, Windows, or whatever the case may be. You never know when you’re going to need to remote log-in to the server to correct a situation. And of course, make sure the remote access is properly secured at all points.

He also says, “Linux is constantly gaining traction.” I believe in politics and marketing this is referred to as “getting on the bandwagon before it rolls away and you’re left behind.” And it’s an argument as atrocious as much of what else he says.

Companies spending money on IT should evaluate their options, and allow time for all reasonable options to be evaluated. Linux might be one of them. Just because “70% of 420 polled business-technology professionals are using Linux” doesn’t mean you should as well. Evaluate your options — you’ll be happier if you did.

Oh and another thing: don’t trust polls, as they’re not scientific.

He also posits WINE as a way to run Windows applications on Linux… Okay he needs to redo his research. WINE is an emulation layer for Windows over the Linux kernel. Is it perfect? Far from, otherwise they wouldn’t maintain a compatibility list on their web site – they’d instead just say “everything works out of the box”. If you’re thinking of implementing WINE, be sure to check out the compatibility list. And the fact the WINE developers appear to be targeting only popular applications means you could be left in the dust for a long time, depending on what you need to run.

Hmm… I wonder how well digestIT 2004 would run under WINE? I’m sure the KCCI project wouldn’t have any issues, but digestIT 2004 might be a much different story.

Well I think that wraps up this post. I’ve used Linux myself, and it has its perks and it has its downfalls, in my opinion. Is it better than Windows? Not for what I do, and that’s the other thing as well. He presents this as “Linux can replace Windows.” Not in all situations, something he also admits in other blog posts.

Plus one place where Windows has always had the edge on Linux is with hardware. Sure Linux can resurrect older hardware, but Windows has always had the edge on the latest and greatest. Why? Because Windows developers can release closed-source drivers, helping to protect their R&D just a while longer.

Now to give Linux some good press in this article, I will say this: I am planning to put up a Linux server running a UPnP media server package on my home network. Onto it will also go Apache, MySQL, and other things. It’ll be no more capable than a Windows server would, but I don’t have any available Windows licenses to put onto the computer, so Linux, I know, will do the job just fine.

What distro will I use? Likely SuSE.