Free Software and Business/Administration

Alex Hudson home at
Tue May 14 17:36:28 UTC 2002

On Tue, 2002-05-14 at 18:11, Georg Jakob wrote:
> > 	freedom from one vendor
> > 	freedom to compete
> > 	freedom to learn
> > 	freedom to teach
> Absolutely right, but my experiences point in another direction, in a 
> strange and disturbing, but nevertheless constant way.
> I can't say much how bighshot companies, the fortune 500 react on it, I'm 
> talking about rather small businesses, local, regional... It seems 
> sometimes as MS is the reliable reality to them. Whereas freedom yes, 
> beautiful, but hey, get real *we* can't do that.

It really depends on the company, and what their experience is. But
(having worked at management level in companies & having consulted for
companies ;) most, if not all, companies who have any kind of
substantial IT requirement will also have horror stories. Most don't
involve Microsoft, although with the licensing changes from 31/07/2002 I
expect that to change. 

One of the major problems businesses have is that they have little
control over IT. No control means that you are unable to manage the risk
- that is the basic tenet, and that is what managers understand. Running
a business is essentially all about risk, and if you can offer managers
a less risky alternative, a better way of business, they will take that.
I believe that Free Software is such an alternative, on a number of
levels. All the freedoms mentioned above, and more, contribute a greater
degree of control by the user (the company) over the product/service
(IT), and it really makes a difference. 

People often understand better with examples. If you want to spell out
to businesspeople how freedom is important, ask them:
* how many times have you been stung by a contractor who has developed
software for you, but has not given you adequate documentation/retains
the product knowledge? how hard has it been to
integrate/extend/redevelop such a system?
* has an IT services company ever configured your systems with their
software and configuration, and held you to ransom? or your own IT
* how many times have you had critical information tied up in a file
format which your new software can no longer read?
* is your company up-to-date with it's licensing from (x) vendor? do you
run software which is unlicensed? how do you know that?
* how many systems do you have, currently, which cannot exchange
information, and which would benefit your business substantially if they
could? why are you not able to get them to talk together?

There are hundreds of questions like this. The common problem is
back-end financial systems: if you're visiting a company who have an
e-commerce website, ask them how easy it was to integrate their website
to their back-end system (if they managed it at all!). It all comes down
to the same point: businesses have little control over IT, and Free
Software gives them much better control. Free Software is a business
benefit, and it is an obvious benefit if you explain it in practical
terms. It _is_ possible to explain to business people that freedom is
important ;)



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