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I have worked in a few places where the use of Open Source Software in products they produce is strictly forbidden for various reasons, such as:

  • no formal support
  • lack of trust in something perceived as "just downloaded from the internet"
  • How can it be professional if it's not supported, we don't pay for it etc etc

I'm looking for the best ways to convince/prove to management that things won't fall apart should we use these tools.

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No, all windows shops, which is part of the problem :) –  jmo21 Feb 2 '11 at 16:21
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All Windows? Not a single open-source Windows application anywhere? Not one download of a .Net component ever used? Surely somewhere, somehow, someone downloaded a tiny scrap of Open Source .NET or Windows software. WinZip? Putty? A TOAD Add-on? Something? –  S.Lott Feb 2 '11 at 16:24
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I meant for product development, I'll add that to the Q. –  jmo21 Feb 2 '11 at 16:29
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And I've worked in a couple of financials/public sector, where the developers, just like normal users, have to request permission for software to be installed on their PC's - in 2 cases, a sys admin had to actually come round and do the installing. –  jmo21 Feb 2 '11 at 16:32
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I have to do that - can install myself, but getting permission can be very frustrating. –  Michael K Feb 2 '11 at 16:58

7 Answers 7

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you are going to make a case for open source, try these:

  • Compare the total cost of ownership for current products with open source counter parts, say over the next 3,5,10 years (Don't forget to account for "Net Present Value" in your analysis!). Factor in things like training, transition, licenses, support, updates, new hardware, etc. Quantify it with a dollar/euro amount.

  • Put something up as proof of concept if this is possible in your situation, and run benchmarks, and show how and if the open source options work better, improve operations in your shop, etc.

  • Find out if your competitor(s)/peer(s) is using open source. Helps if the competitor(s)/peer(s) is doing better than your company (-;

  • Formal support/SLAs might be a big one. There are companies that will provide formal support for open source products. That cost could be part of your analysis.

People are resistant to and afraid of change, especially when they are unfamiliar with the change. Give them good compelling reasons to -- financial and operational.

Best Wishes,

KM

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Many open source products are more than happy to take money for commercial support. It's a big deal nowadays.

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It seems that the problem in management's eyes is that there's no number to call when stuff doesn't work. Many open source projects use the "we'll give it to you but you've got to pay if you want help with it" model. –  Mike Brown Feb 2 '11 at 19:21

no formal support

Do a case study comparison between finding a problem and making a change in the specific open source component you want to use vs. finding a problem and making a change in .Net.

Oh, wait. You can't easily make changes to .Net, can you?

lack of trust in something perceived as "just downloaded from the internet"

Correct. Wise. Hence testing.

You test your own software right? Test the software you downloaded. It's not hard.

For the specific component you want to use, download it and run the test suite.

How can it be professional if it's not supported, we don't pay for it etc etc

Correct.

Again. Case study comparison between a specific package you specifically want to use and your own in-house software.

If you actually download something, and actually read it, and actually compare with in-house "best" practices, you'll often have a compelling case study that shows

  1. Open Source is really good.

  2. Your in-house best practices need improvement.

The point is not to generalize but to download a specific package and explain it's specific merits.

One package at a time.

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You might point out that Microsoft itself develops, endorses and supports open source software.

ASP.NET MVC is a good example; the source for ASP.NET MVC is available under a permissive license, and the use of jQuery with it (which is also open source) is officially endorsed.

Having the source code for a particular feature should increase confidence, not decrease it.

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I think it doesn't fix the problem because even though it's open source, they are supported by Microsoft. –  Mike Brown Feb 2 '11 at 16:44
    
+1 on access to source code –  Maglob Feb 2 '11 at 16:45

Some food for thought:

  • It's free!
  • The backbone of the internet is basically built on open source!
  • Google and Facebook uses open source!
  • Some of the major open source projects provide commercial support (Redhat, MySql, JBoss, etc)
  • Some of smaller (consultancy) companies are specialized in providing support for open source projects. Ask around.
  • You could try open source first on some internal tools or projects.
  • Build a proof of concept and demo it
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It's not free. There are all sorts of ancillary costs that go along with using open source. –  Robert Harvey Feb 2 '11 at 16:49
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@Robert Harvey: To be precise, there's all sorts of costs that go along with using software. Free/Open Source software generally eliminates one of them. –  David Thornley Feb 2 '11 at 19:02
    
Also, in my experience management very often assumes that if you cannot measure costs easily, there are no costs. Like not buying faster computers, bigger harddisks etc. –  LennyProgrammers Feb 3 '11 at 8:17
    
@David - eliminates one, but raises other costs, some directly monetary, others indirectly. –  jmo21 Feb 3 '11 at 8:42
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@james: You encounter frustratingly many of those costs with commercial software too. All too often, the main distinguishing feature is the slickness of the GUI front end… –  Donal Fellows Feb 3 '11 at 8:49
  • no formal support Some open source projects do have formal support (Ubuntu). Community help (say stackexchange sites) easily replaces formal support for the rest.
  • lack of trust in something perceived as "just downloaded from the internet" Do they trust in Ubuntu, Java, Apache web server, MySQL, OpenOffice?
  • How can it be professional if it's not supported, Java is the most popular programming language and Apache web server is the most popular web server.
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I think you should sell management the best tool for the job (within the constraints of budget, effort to implement etc.). As a developer I sell the idea of introducing both open source and commercial tools while applicable. As a .Net developer I strongly push for TFS and not subversion as I feel that TFS has better integration in a .Net ecosystem. On the other hand the free SOAP UI is an excellent tool to test web services and for our need I couldn't justify a commercial tool. It is not ideology based for me.
As to non-development tools like office apps, database, firewalls, network gears, VOIP system I have no direct say as a developer but as long as I have a way to work with .Net with them I am happy. These days almost everything is inter-operable using open standards. I think open standards is more important than open source.

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