C. Marc Wagner’s article Don’t be fooled, Linux is not free, makes several good points, but fails to remind the reader what the GNU says about “free” in the context of Open Source and GNU Linux:
Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free” speech, not as in “free” beer…
Much of the money saved on software cost, assuming you are not using one of the many commercial (i.e. license fees) Linux distributions, is best spent on training. Proper implementation of IT must affect the bottom line of an organization in real and positive ways. Knowledge based on experience and thoughtful training at all levels of user and administration, serve only to realize these benefits.
Let’s be realistic. It’s a mixed platform world. It’s really nonsense to be all or nothing when it comes to operating systems, or proprietary v. open source as an IT professional. Serving the best interest of our organization and that of our user base should be paramount – not personal passions and prejudice. It is good to expose people to other technologies. Ignorance breeds fear – this fear is a barrier to implementing open source software. While I appreciate the innovation of many Open Source programs, I also appreciate some of the things that can be done with Microsoft products. Besides, Microsoft has been our bread and butter for years. Average users, and especially power users, are hesitant to try something new. It’s been my experience that once that initial barrier is crossed, the “novelty effect” has to be overcome as well. *NIX are just as “serious” as Microsoft products.
These barriers do not typically occur in children though. To them, a computer is a computer. If adults could only understand this! IT professionals are not exempt from ignorance either. To wit: At a meeting of the regional technical college IT curriculum advisory board, I was expounding the joys of spammassasin, clamAV, and new-amavisd when an enterprise IT manager pointed out that, “…business don’t want something new and gimmicky – they only want to use what is tried and true.” When I explained that *NIX has evolved from a code base that has been around for decades longer than even the oldest lines of Microsoft products, he quietly took his seat and said no more about it. I really enjoy checking out the various distributions of *NIX. It’s the same sense of discovery that I had with DOS 4.0 back in the day – you could take a text editor to command.com and make it say stuff like “formatted 1433.6 KB of crap”, so long as you padded the left-overs with asci spaces. I often see, what in my opinion, are superior programs and methods on these OS’s. Regardless of my enthusiasm, it’s a big deal for an organization to change platforms. Making sure that their accounting software, or SAP is going to work are just some of many considerations. In an education environment though, this is not a big issue, nor is it an issue at any level when given realistic cost analysis and proper implementation. When we talk of “free” software in this context, let us be reminded of Richard Stallman’s words:
“When talking about free software, it is best to avoid using terms like “give away” or “for free”, because those terms imply that the issue is about price, not freedom.”