Going open source at work: How to convince your boss

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Open source is more prominent than ever – especially in the enterprise level. It’s creeping onto desktops, serving up web sites, managing content, and even hosting the largest web site on the planet (Facebook). Many administrators want to bring open source into their workplaces, but are finding that those who sign the checks are often unwilling to make a move on software they have deemed unworthy and unproven. You know they are wrong, but you’ve yet to convince them so.

If you’ve been trying to persuade your boss, but you haven’t made much progress, don’t give up just yet. Persuasion is an art, and in order to craft strong arguments, you have to be armed with the right points. While not all of these will apply to every situation, you should be able to build up a solid case that will surely help sway the powers that be into seeing the benefits of employing open source software.

Flexibility – For every proprietary task, open source software can achieve that same goal in a number of different ways. When using open source, unlike the Apple or Microsoft way, you can do what you need to do in exactly the method you need. Most will assume this is because you have open access to the source code and can re-code as needed. Open source offers plenty of flexibility well beyond the code. Think of your task as a puzzle. Although Apple and Microsoft might have the exact puzzle pieces necessary to get the job done, open source offers a sort of flexible puzzle piece that can fit into that open spot in any way – as if the puzzle piece itself can be re-configured to perfectly match the hole you need filled. Between all the various pieces offered by open source, you can get the job done in multiple ways. That is true flexibility.

Control – Similar to the flexibility offered by open source, when you deploy open source, you get complete control over how it’s used, when it’s used, how often it’s used and so much more. With a lot of proprietary software, there are strict rules with how something is put in place and the job it does – this is both with the structure of the software as well as the license. For anyone who wants to be able to exert full control over the software used in their business, open source is the ideal solution. With open source, you are not beholden to a license or a company that dictates how the software is implemented. It’s yours; use it as needed.

Cost of ownership – For most, the return on investment (ROI) is the most important factor for the bottom line. But the problem is, how do you define that when ROI is such a dynamic notion? You have hours worked, salaries paid, volunteer work, work against salary, issues that will occur down the road – so many variables. With that in mind, one can more easily turn to cost of ownership instead. In this category, proprietary software doesn’t hold a candle to open source. Let’s take a look at Microsoft Office 2013. With this piece of software you purchase a single license and install it once… on a single machine. That’s it. With LibreOffice, on the other hand, you download it once and you install it as many times as you like and on as many machines as you like. And for the vast majority of office suite users in the business world, LibreOffice has every feature and option needed for creating and editing documents. Same thing holds true with the Linux operating system. Download it and install at will.

Life span – Windows XP is about to go away, and that means a LOT of machines are about to become extinct unless they’re upgraded. Some would argue that it just means the operating system itself won’t be updated – so it can still be used. To a degree, that is true. But what happens when that crucial piece of software you use requires an update that would then break it on the XP platform? So not only are you looking at security issues, you’re looking at broken applications. The average life-span of open source software is significant. Because much of this software is maintained by volunteers (and not companies), it is possible to keep older versions of software around much longer. And although the main open source platform (Linux) is constantly evolving, the vast majority of older software still works. Take, for instance, the old-school Mutt, text-based email client. It’s been around since 1995 and I can still install and use it on modern Linux machines. Unlike its proprietary brethren, open source software is not, in any way, designed with planned obsolescence as a major driving force.

Support – One of the biggest cries against open source software and for proprietary software is that open source software lacks support. This is simply not true. With open source software, you have many routes of support: mailing lists, forums, search engines…even the software developers themselves. I have, on many occasions, contacted the developer of a piece of open source software for help. Let’s see you do that with a piece of proprietary software (without paying a steep price). With open source software, you may not always have a hot line to an actual company, but there are so many routes to support, you are almost always just an email away from solving your issues – and it won’t cost you a penny.

These points – coupled with the more often thought of arguments such as virus-free, reliability and security – should give you everything you need to craft a compelling argument, and convince decision-makers that adopting open source is the right solution for your company.

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Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award winning writer of technical content and fiction. He has been covering Linux and open source since the late '90s and just about every conceivable topic since. His fiction breaks ground in the post apocalyptic genre as well as horror, thriller, and science fiction. For more information on Jack, check out his site, Get Jack'd at getjackd.net.