Free Software Evangelism, revisited

Sean DALY sean.daly at
Wed May 24 14:51:29 UTC 2006

I started out in business selling financial products on Wall Street in the 1980s. Intimidating at first, of course. And for 100 cold calls to prospects, ten first meetings for contact and information gathering, and three second meetings for making the pitch, I had one sale. There are many methods to convince, but perhaps the most important one I think is to prepare by playing devil's advocate and have an answer ready for each plausible objection.

I would venture to say it's easier to encourage FLOSS adoption in business today - the Internet abounds with information and curious decision makers can organize testing quite easily. It took me over a year (starting in mid-2003) to overcome heavy internal resistance to my FLOSS project - and I was *inside* the client business!

I started out with a table contrasting the FLOSS solution with the proposed proprietary solution, listing advantages and disadvantages as fairly as I could; leaving at the bottom the cost factor which I estimated at 5 to 15 times cheaper (it turned out to be about 7 times cheaper). At each step, I showed how I could manage the risk - in particular, subcontracted onsite support - within 24 hours in my case (non-mission-critical system) for a reasonable sum.

Businesses are naturally attracted to FLOSS; they are keenly aware of the security risks of the monoculture, of the high prices of licensing proprietary software, of the difficulties encountered when a supplier folds or is bought out or otherwise doesn't care about quality or service any more. I feel we cannot underestimate the importance of getting the message out about how Free Software works - for example, a friendly and an otherwise intelligent colleague introduced me at a meeting once by saying, "now we will hear about Sean's shareware" (!)

I often compare Free Software development to the scientific method - where papers are published, knowledge is shared, and experiments must be reproducible - and proprietary software development to alchemy - let's touch wood and hope it works, we are counting on the reputation of Company X to keep the black box working OK. I describe FLOSS as modern software, built to standards. I encourage doubters to set up a sandbox PC and test themselves, and to have a prototype developed by a FLOSS integrator for much cheaper than usual, etc.

Sean DALY.

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