Everyday I hear the words open source coming by more than once. Alright, I admit, open source is a big part of my work. In the ICT world talking about open source is very fashionable at the moment. If I am thinking about my situation at home or with my friends, it’s different. Open source, my wife does not have a clue and she does not care. Maybe I should talk in the past. A few months a go things changed. I moved from my previous employer to a small software company (jteam). The bigger company provided software like MS Office for use on one pc at home. Therefore my wife got used to having MS Word around. Now that I left that firm I had to de-install that software. Of course I had to give her an alternative. We could have bought a license of at least a 00 euros. At work I was using OpenOffice more and more. Therefore I suggested my wife to install it at home as well. Immediately my wife had questions like:
Isn’t that open office thing a lot harder to use?
Can I still open the sam documents at home as I can at work?
This uncertainty was not surprising me, and I was prepared. I had open office installed on my machine so I could easily show it to her. I also explained to her that we use open office on a lot of different computers using windows, linux and of course my Mac. Another thing is that I am around on a daily bases, so I can always help her if she has problems. We downloaded the complete suit and within a few minutes (Yes I have a pretty fast internet connection) her laptop was prepared for first use. Now, after she has been using it for a few weeks, she had no complaints, so everything is working. Now I can proudly say that my wife is using open source software.
So can we concluded open source is becoming mainstream? Not just yet, read on to learn why.
This example with my wife is a pretty specific case. Would I advise the same product to my parents or any other acquaintance? I do not want to become a help desk. Would I recommend my wife to install something like Ubuntu? I do not think so. Maybe a different browser than? I installed firefox and explained her that it is a better browser with respect to security (Just my opinion). What I am getting to is that you make a list of pros and cons within the context. I do not want to suggest you have to use open source for everything in any situation. The risk for using something like OpenOffice is not very high. But for her to make the move to something like Ubuntu would have a much bigger risk. The risk of spending a lot of time on learning and requesting to much time from me to help her. For me an operating system is a bridge to far. There is a good reason I prefer the Mac OSX over anything else. Not because it is open source :-), it’s not. I just think it works better for me.
So can we conclude now that open source is becoming main stream? No, I do not think we can conclude that based only on what I have told you so far.
How can we use this story and translate it for the business environment. If a (with all respect) simple user like my wife can figure out how to use open office, the users in businesses should be able to do so as well. Are the steps as described with my wife useable in the business environment? I think the parallels are big, business users can start with some applications that are of lower risk, they too need someone that helps them taking away their concerns. Within a business environment the end users are not the only persons to persuade. The managers need to be persuaded together with the support environment. In my opinion this is the group of people that are changing the way they think about open source. For a lot of managers open source is now hot, or Fashionable. These managers are more open to talk about open source, they also talk about it amongst each other. Their magazines are full of open source. There are even a lot of companies supporting open source or even own their existence to an open source project. What this means for the open source communities is a different story. I am writing an other article about that, so stay tuned for that.
What will be the last steps to make open source commodity instead of fashion. Think back about the story about my wife. She needed some advice about the tool to choose, why was that tool better for her. Than she needed the availability of support when she is stuck. To make other people within businesses as well as at home use more open source. We all have to give them the reasons why and help them making the right decision for there personal context. Some things to consider:
– Reduce cost of ownership
– Online support by the community
– Influence the direction of the product for the future by submitting feature requests and maybe bugs
So, Open source fashion or commodity? To me it is still fashion on the larger scale, although in some communities open source has become commodity.
Come back for my next article about open source.