View Full Version : Are Companies Afraid of Free Software?
In the past two weeks my company has asked me to price software for them. First they wanted something like Photoshop so I suggested PS Elements and GIMP. I tried to explain the concept of Open Source software but they seemed to think it was illegal or must be some sort of virus. One coworker actually voiced their concern about Microsoft's reaction if they knew people weren't paying for software.
The second time it was for GIS software. They had priced a few options ranging from $2000-20000. I suggested GRASS. Which from what I could tell would do everything we needed to. And again, they all looked at me like I had suggested that we start slaughtering puppies to build employee moral.
Is this just my company or is it standard that everyone thinks open source is evil or some sort of scam? How can I convince them otherwise?
the uppers in my company aren't that clueless about f/oss, but they still don't use it. they generally just don't trust that non-microsoft products will do what they want, and integrate sufficiently with the excessive microsoft investment we already have.
unfortunately i dont really have any power about such decisions, but i recommend you show them some demonstrations of gimp and grass. when they see it in action, they might be more convinced. and if they are still concerned, charge them a few grand to install it ;).
One coworker actually voiced their concern about Microsoft's reaction if they knew people weren't paying for software.
That's pretty far out there.
Here at a univ library we have some interesting interactions over it, but really the situation depends on the software. I understand reservations about GIMP as opposed to photoshop. However, sometimes there are two options where the differences are not so pronounced or where the open source option is better. One of the big considerations at that point is whether we can get adequate support and how long development will continue.
Another major issue is the push by university IT and other it management to streamline support issues by limiting the diversity of platforms and software. This has lead to almost exclusive promotion of microsoft and apple products. For example, a couple years ago the univ switched the primary supported browser from netscape to IE. Personally, I think it is extremely unfortunate that there is not more support for Mozilla, especially when we are at the point where using IE is just plain stupid.
Then there is the MAJOR problem facing libraries and universities overall with pushlishers wanting to lock down information and finding software companies willing to help by creating closed standards. We recently had a situation where the most widely used document delivery software was purchased by an online publishing company that immediately clamped down on the use of its 'protocol' (basically a fucked-up twisting of standard FTP) by an open source competitor. Now, because of the release of an open protocol by another company, there are two competing protocols. All of the commercial products use both, but the open source ones can only use the open one.
On top of this, all of the above mentioned options are BUGGY AS HELL. One of our developers actually modified and cleaned up the open source program last year before the crackdown.
So, as you can see, open source options can sometimes suffer when commercial competitors use underhanded tactics without repercussions because of the ignorance of its customer base. As such, we probably will eventually have to migrate fully to the shitty commerical option, and that is what management is pushing for. Bascially it all got too complicated for them.
Generally it comes down to three things:
1) Distrust of motives
Face it, almost no one in business does anything without a profit motive. Otherwise it wouldn't be *business*. So they're always looking for the hook... free software seems too good to be true, they're *convinced* that down the road someone will make them pay for it retroactively. The idea that *no company owns it* makes them twitch. (It took me weeks to convince my mother that nobody 'owned' the Internet. She simply couldn't comprehend how a commodity so valuable could be 'ownerless'.)
2) No obvious place to get support
Along with #1, the concept of getting help or support 'for free' is alien to most suits. "Well who do we call if something goes wrong?" They don't want a page of URLs to go check and ask questions on, they want a telephone number with someone on the other end they can scream at.
Edit: Speak of the devil, ran across this on a dev list just now: "It is a little frustrating. If we have a prob with our Sun OS, we contact Sun,
tell them what is going on, and they fix it or give us a way around it (tell us
what we are doing wrong, etc.). Can't do that with Linux...bummer."
3) No place to put blame
If MS software goes wonky, they have the illusion of the option of suing. Legally, they haven't a leg to stand on, but the litigious mentality is so strong that it makes them feel better to think that there's *someone* they can target in case things go badly.
Additionally, there may be other factors such as licensing issues. If I were a company, I'd have to really look several times at GPL'd software use - the GPL is too vague on 'derived works', on purpose - they *want* it to be viral. For that reason, I much prefer the BSD style licenses for business use. Heck, we looked hard at using BitKeeper instead of CVS here at UNC, and ended up not going with it because the license for the free version required us to publish our change logs publicly. Seems fair, to me - you want the product for free, you make the inner details of your software free as well. But it won't fly for projects with patent filings, so we're going with Subversion.
Even playing to the 'it costs *nada*' angle doesn't seem to work, the sheer oddity of something for 'free' seems to collide with their world view so fundamentally that it simply ain't gonna happen.
I just wanted to make a comment that in my spare time, I am working on a web-based project to bring to light the problems with copyright and patent law, and how government and big business are destroying Public Domain material.
For those of you not familiar with this, I suggest you read L. Lessigs "Free Culture". You can download the PDF version for free.
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