Then You Win!

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Mahatma Gandhi

I have read this quote many times and always wondered if I would see a tipping point to the ‘winning’ stage. Today I read an article that made me think there is a chance that the tipping point may be approaching.

But the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude believes a significant proportion of that outlay could be cut by switching to software which can produce open-source files in the “open document format” (ODF), such as OpenOffice and Google Docs.

Once the reliance on Microsoft Office is removed the need for Microsoft Windows will also decrease. Imagine the freedom of innovation that can take place when funds are not tied up buying software that provide very basic functionality.

We weren’t just missing out on innovation, we were paying top dollar for yesterday’s technology.

Innovation is one of the amazing things about open source software. With Microsoft and Apple you have one path. With open source you have many paths. Major companies like Google drive their business advantage by using Ubuntu and other open source software. Apple made a comeback by making use of open source software. Will it be a tipping point when the UK government converts? If they find success I think it will be.

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3 Responses to Then You Win!

  1. Pingback: Charles Profitt: Then You Win! | Hi-tech news

  2. “Innovation is one of the amazing things about open source software. With Microsoft and Apple you have one path. With open source you have many paths. Major companies like Google drive their business advantage by using Ubuntu and other open source software. Apple made a comeback by making use of open source software.”

    Let’s be honest here: Apple did not simply “make use” of open source software. They took BSD-licensed software, enhanced and modified it and turned it into proprietary software that they are now selling under their own brand and label. That’s fine because that’s what BSD/MIT-style licenses were made for: To enable BUSINESSES.

    Google is doing something similar. They use a strongly customized version of Ubuntu that you won’t find “in the wild”. But Google also does not simply use open source software, they write a bunch of open source and proprietary software themselves.

    Google and Apple are actually very bad examples when you want to “sell” or “evangelize” the benefits of open source to users. Why? Google and Apple are software companies, that’s why. They have hordes of paid software developers working for them that can take open source projects and turn them into working products.

    I doubt that the British government can do that without spending of millions of pounds on consulting fees. In the end, they won’t save any money by not buying proprietary products, because whatever they will save on license fees, they will spend on development costs.

    “Once the reliance on Microsoft Office is removed the need for Microsoft Windows will also decrease.”

    That is also a big myth. It might become true when Linux distributions would turn into actual PRODUCTS (read: polished, supported, professionally maintained, user friendly, with roadmaps and guaranteed life cycles) that are on eye level with OS X or Windows. But for over two decades, this has NEVER been the case.

    It takes more than average user skills to install a Linux-based operating system, and it takes more than average user skills to keep such a system running. Especially Ubuntu breaks something basic with almost every software update. Try using nVidia graphics cards on Ubuntu with nVidia drivers and you’ll find out very quickly what I’m talking about. I make my living in IT and I can keep my Linux machine at home in a working state. My wife is smart, but not an IT-person. (X)Ubuntu only works for her when she freezes the system in a well-defined state and never installs any software updates at all – if she wasn’t married to an admin, Xubuntu wouldn’t be usable for her.

    But it’s not even the OS platform itself that is a problem. It’s the de facto inferior end user software for that platform. Dozens of media players exist for Linux, from Banshee to Guayadeque and whatever else might be out there. None of them is as usable as iTunes. That’s not saying that iTunes is any good. It only means that everything for Linux is worse. And this is just something as unimportant as a media player/media library software. The comparison chart looks even worse when you look at other commercial software and their open source counterparts. When you need to use a bit more than just a web browser, Linux as a desktop platform FOR END-USERS falls very quickly apart.

    There are many good reasons why even developers gave up on Linux and bought Macs instead – you get the power of Unix but can still eat your cake, too. But strangely enough, even on OS X, people actually rather use Microsoft Office than OpenOffice or Apple’s own iWorks. Apparently, there is not enough innovation in the field of Office Suites in the open source world that people want to drop Microsoft Office in favor of an alternative. It seems that the benefits of MS Office outweigh the license costs.

    In case someone wonders why that is: It’s not just the document format that became THE de facto industry standard. The magical two words are OFFICE AUTOMATION. Products like Sage Office Line, just to give one example, are entirely built on top of Microsoft’s Office platform. The ecosystem around Microsoft Office and BackOffice is so vast, it’s simply impossible to replace Microsoft’s platforms with something else without losing most of the existing productivity – and the investments.

    I’m not bashing the open source ecosystem and the efforts made there. Half of the server room in my company runs Linux systems for very good reasons. But the other half runs Microsoft servers and all notebooks and desktops run Windows also for very good reasons. In the real world, the selection of a platform is not an either/or choice. You choose what’s best for a certain purpose and then you integrate that solution into your landscape. Standardized communication protocols and file formats are more important than standardized software platforms.

    • Charles Profitt says:

      I can appreciate your vantage point, but have to respond.

      The first issue I have is:

      It takes more than average user skills to install a Linux-based operating system, and it takes more than average user skills to keep such a system running.

      Odd, my children all run Ubuntu. My oldest has done the install herself and patches her machine. She was running an Nvidia card and the only issues we had was when we did a dist-upgrade.

      That is also a big myth. It might become true when Linux distributions would turn into actual PRODUCTS (read: polished, supported, professionally maintained, user friendly, with roadmaps and guaranteed life cycles) that are on eye level with OS X or Windows.

      I personally find Ubuntu, SuSE and RHEL on pair with Microsoft in several areas.

      The ecosystem around Microsoft Office and BackOffice is so vast, it’s simply impossible to replace Microsoft’s platforms with something else without losing most of the existing productivity – and the investments.

      I agree, but there is always a first step.

      Let’s be honest here: Apple did not simply “make use” of open source software. They took BSD-licensed software, enhanced and modified it and turned it into proprietary software that they are now selling under their own brand and label. That’s fine because that’s what BSD/MIT-style licenses were made for: To enable BUSINESSES.

      Let us be completely honest. I never said that they simply made use of… and you admit that they used BSD-Licenses software, enhanced and modified it. However, they did not stop with the Mach kernel. Apple was in its death throws when Steve Jobs, who actually leveragde the Mach Kernel with NeXT, came back in to save them. They did not use their “hordes of paid software developers” to develop something from scratch to get themselves back in the game. They leveraged FOSS. Without FOSS I doubt Jobs builds NeXT and I doubt Apple manages to survive long enough to get to the iPod, iPad and iPhone. Apple did not stop with the Mach Kernel either. The following releases used GPL: 10.5: 47 GPL-licensed packages, 10.6: 44 GPL-licensed packages, 10.7: 29 GPL-licensed packages. While the amount is decreasing they gained a competitive advantage by leveraging exisitng open source software instead of developing it in house. The CUPS project is currently still utilized to provide printing for OSX; in fact, I believe Apple is the current ‘owner’ of CUPS.

      Google and Apple are actually very bad examples when you want to “sell” or “evangelize” the benefits of open source to users.

      That may be true, but I am not restricting my thoughts to ‘users’. Companies can take a look at the example set by Google and Apple and determine if they can follow the same path. I would imagine Google and Apple chose what’s best for their purposes and then integrated that solution into their landscape. Apparently, they chose to open source software to do that.

      The original premise of my article was about the fact that perhaps this was the beginning of the tipping point. I will not make a prediction, but I would believe that if the UK does this successfully there is a strong chance it will be.

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