Open source has been hailed as the obvious solution for saving money, being flexible, more transparent and avoiding project failures. After attending a recent open source event in London, I came away confused and it made me think about what open source actually means here in 2010. Source code access hardly seems either relevant or valuable to most online professionals. In addition, many commercial proprietary vendors, e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle have bigger and more vibrant communities than most open source projects. That's being the case, what's the real benefit of open source?
The event was called: Public Funds in the UK: Open Source for Document and Content Management? Let me start with an excellent quote from the day:
Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: “My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government.”
It was former Ovum analyst Mike Davis who cited the very first episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister first broadcast 30 years ago in order to very eloquently express his view on the state of open source adoption in the UK government.
My talk was based on last week's commentary on Open source doesn’t always represent best value and I covered the confusion and several issues with open source, including support, risks, requirements, implementation and community. Illustrated with a few case studies from our European members, I tried to look beyond the hype and shared my recommendation regarding open source. You can download a copy of my slides below.
As mentioned initially, I came away confused. The event was interesting and organized by UK project management guru Graham Oakes and run by the British Computer Society. The event was free to attend and there was a good mix of speakers, including vendor, agency and user perspectives. Moreover the BCS served a great lunch. I learned that when digital agencies respond to a technology selection tender, they tend to avoid open source unless the tender explicitly states anything about open source or typical open source requirements, such as active number of contributors or source code access. If in doubt, they'll suggest a proprietary commercial alternative thinking that the customer might have reservations about open source.
Dear reader, perhaps you can help me out? Am I am the only one thinking that:
- open source has lost its meaning and moved far beyond source code access to either a way of life for some very transparent vendors, or a new way to capitalize on software and attract snazzy investors
- open source does not have any real benefits for the buyers
- open source does not equal open standards. And, by the way, which open standards (except those from the W3c, e.g. HTML and XML) are used and referred to by all the analysts and vendors?
Here's another relevant and great quote on the law of inverse relevance from the same Yes Minister episode:
The less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it.
This certainly seems to be a very valid statement about open source adoption in 2010. As long as the real open source benefits remain unclear, at least from the buyer perspective, my message to both government and private buyers is: Don't rush into open source.
Thank you to the many members and other peers who contributed with helpful feedback to my talk. Download slides: Open source doesn't always represent best value (PDF, 1 Mb)
Other perspectives from the day: