Breaking The Habit

Posted on 21st June 2007

I spoke at the OpenAdvantage Open Source Showcase yesterday. It was intriguing to see how some other speakers took the brief of "introduce why you use open source" to mean "a free 10 minute marketing exposure". While I certainly have nothing against small businesses trying to promote themselves at these sort of events, it would have been nice for them to better explain why they chose to use Open Source Software. Some did, albeit briefly, some explained the benefits they've gained (Birmingham Friends of The Earth was certainly a good example), but most took the time to explain how big their client portfolio was. The people in the room largely were small businesses and were looking to understand why they should consider Open Source.

One presentation failed to even mention Open Source or any Open Source product. It was only later I discovered that the hardware product worked with a Linux kernel. It was a sales pitch from start to finish. The presenters wife was sat next to me, and kept adding commentary to those around her, to follow up statements made by the presenter. It was a bit bizarre, and a bit out of place I felt.

My talk, using Labyrinth to provide an example, was really about why I chose Open Source and specifically Perl to implement the website application. I started by explaining my background, not in any great detail, but enough so the audience could understand that I had a history of programming and IT, long before Open Source and Free Software was consider the movement it is today. Whereas most other speakers were able to say they had been doing their particular field for 4-8 years, I was able to state that I have been a programmer for nearly 30 years. I also come from a very different perspective, that of someone who is a true developer. The only other developers were Kat and Dave, who did the presentation about PHP before me. Pretty much everyone else had a much more user perspective. With 13 presentations, it was an odd balance that only 2 were not user experiences.

If I was attending to represent my own company, then while user experiences would be very useful to prove that my business could benefit from using Open Source, I personally would like to understand what benefits that the actual developers see and the future for Open Source, which you're not likely to get from users. There was one presentation from a lawyer about licensing, which pretty much reaffirmed what most of us understand about licensing issues, which was well placed, as it is a subject that does worry some businesses. While some may be just interested in the cost aspect to begin with, ultimately the subject of support and longevity does get thought about. Users often can't explain those, so it would have been nice to have had a Linux distro developer or other Open Source software developer to give that sort of perspective.

There wasn't much Microsoft bashing, which was refreshing, but rather reasoned arguments why proprietry software didn't work for these particular business. One speaker gave a price list for seven basic development machines running Windows and another seven running Linux. The final cost compared £10,000 with £4,500. I did have to smile at the claim that they didn't need AV software on the Linux machine, but resisted the urge to note that Linux isn't virus-free. I originally did offer to speak about why MessageLabs use OSS, but Elliot from OpenAdvantage felt that the Perl talk would be more appropriate. Now having done the talk, I would have to agree.

The event was well attended, with about 50+ people in the audience, and generated a lot of discussion. I hope they get to invite me to another event in the future, and this time I might not over run :)


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