Lately, facing the prospect of picking up blogging after some significant time away from it, I've been pondering the topic of inertia. Most are already familiar with the term, but underestimate how this fundamental principle is applicable outside classical physics...even when examining the topic of attitudes towards open source in the year 2008.
For those who've witnessed the growth of open source from fringe movement to full-fledged force, it goes unnoticed that most decision makers continue to harbor woefully outdated ideas and perceptions about open source software. Part of this might sound absurd at first, so to better illustrate my point here are some categories of interest as my experiences have revealed to me:
- Totally unaware - Have never heard of open source (a fringe minority).
- Not interested - Have heard but not motivated to even consider it.
- Interested but inactively so - Might read, discuss or even inquire but nothing further.
- Leaning towards exploring - Actively informed and interested but still several steps away from a pilot.
- Actively exploring - Already piloting.
- Adopters - Been there done that.
I suffices to say that categories 2 and 3 claim the vast majority of the enterprise crowd. Part of it is that within the modern enterprise (especially larger ones) higher degree novelty = higher degree of risk. So while time might be the absolute test for all things (over the long haul) it's still safer to fall within accepted boundaries (in the short term). Meaning open source isn't just competing on grounds of functionality, price and "value" but also against organizational inertia. The patterns, habits and assumptions built atop years of playing in closed gardens is a strong force, to say the least. Even as open source has proven itself "good enough" where it matters most, these ingrained habits and viewpoints represent another hurdle.
To overcome this, open source must represent enough gain to soften widely-held doubts about the model itself. Once again, these concerns might sound a bit 2003-ish but are still relevant today in 2008.
- Security of the software - The association with open code bases and vulnerability still exists.
- Availability of service and support - A great deal of open source packages don't have a supporting organization behind it...nor should they.
- TCO - Not just monetary costs but those resource and knowledge based.
- Legal issues - Self explanatory
- Viability of the open source communities - Can communities be counted on to deliver consistently? Will open, collaborative software development model stand the test of time?
- Complexity of adoption/learning curve - What exactly does it take to establish tailored policies, governance, etc.?
- Product maturity - The one concern that will gradually dwindle based solely on the passing of time.
Where the above have been shown to be addressed, open source has flourished (commercially and otherwise). Where one or more of these doubts linger, growth has been substantially slower and/or sporadic. Unfortunately, the inactive passing of time during which open source "sticks around" does not guarantee that the above will be proven moot. Neither does the financial viability of individual open source vendors. It will take a concerted effort to continue to push the open source model with the objective of chipping away at some of the misplaced concerns that linger.