By: Robin Bloor, Chief Research Officer, Bloor Research
Published: 18th March 2005
Copyright Bloor Research © 2005
You may remember the early exuberating days of the PC in the corporation, when computer users at last had their own computing resource. In the main, it was very positive for corporate productivity as the corporate computer user was blessed with the joys of word processing, spreadsheets, DTP and many other applications. However, there were excesses too, with some computer users believing that they now had complete independence from the IT Department and could develop their own applications. Some even believed that they knew as much about IT as those ivory tower IT professionals.
I encountered a few such individuals at that time. I remember one PC enthusiast proudly announcing that the application he had built used nothing more than spreadsheet software. He got a little bit edgy when I asked him about back-up and recovery, test harnesses, documentation, data integration and other such ivory tower issues.
With Open Source, the boot is now firmly on a different foot – but it's the same boot. I am now encountering examples of developers in IT Departments happily implementing Open Source products, or even embedding slices of Open Source code in the applications they develop, simply because they can. And very proud of it they are too.
Are they consulting management about this? Well, not really.
The PC enthusiasts believed that they had escaped the tyranny of the IT Department and these particular Open Source cavaliers believe that they have escaped the tyranny of the procurement process. Having experienced years of being stifled by the time it takes to get the software they want through the corporate channel, and the simple fact that budgets for software purchase are usually small, they now simply circumvent the whole process and download what they want from the vast pool of Open Source now available to the world.
Now, the use of Open Source products is no bad thing, in my view. The quality of such software as Linux, Open Office, FireFox, Apache, JBoss, Ingres, Firebird, MySQL, etc. is beyond any reasonable dispute. The truth is that a remarkable array of high quality software is available for nothing more than reasonable support fees, or even for no support costs if you choose to support it yourself in conjunction with the associated user community.
However, corporate IT policy exists for a reason. I know of no company that has a policy which reads: developers can download whatever they want from anywhere and deploy it as they please or use it to build applications. There are ivory tower issues here too – like maintainability, software integration, standards, training, license integrity and so on. To ignore such issues does not correspond to responsible IT behaviour or responsible corporate behaviour.
Large numbers of small businesses are now shifting to the use of Open Source products – for obvious reasons – and such businesses are usually happy to assume the risk of using unsupported software, because they've never had the funds to pay for decent support anyway and they're too small to care about standards. Also, many large corporations are now deploying Open Source products at the heart of their IT, but doing so in a considered and responsible way. I have no problem with either of these developments.
However, I do feel a little uneasy when I hear a seasoned developer proudly boasting that he solved a problem he was having in a single afternoon by downloading a neat little database utility from SourceForge. Tactically, it may have been the fastest way to resolve the problem, but there are consequences to such behaviour. Unfortunately, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
Posted: 29th March 2005 | By Peter Milesson :
I have seen not a few pieces of commercial (and expensive) software for enterprises that's really crap. Well documented, but still crap. When you ask for bug corrections, you get more crap. Then, as a pro, you look for a working alternative. Many times, not always, you find an Open Source alternative, that is well documented, well written, and stable, and that nicely integrates with your existing systems, or will do, without too much work.
Who got the crap into the organisation, and how? That's anothter story, and much more complex.
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