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How Open Source can be good for business January 15, 2010

Posted by bodonovan in open-source, ubuntu.
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One of the demos you’ll find at the IBM stand in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is Open Source Software. The best thing about it, of course, is that it’s free. Some of you may wonder: why is a company such as IBM promoting Open Source Software? If something is that good, should not we not be trying to sell it… or make money out of it?

There are different schools of thought in relation to Open Source Software:

  • Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation thinks that Open Source is related to the fundamental human right to liberty. As computers take on a growing importance to modern society, he claims that it is vitally important that users have the freedom to do whatever they want with the software they are using. This does not mean that is it impossible to build a profitable business from Open Source Software: many companies such as RedHat have built up a very substantial business from providing support and other services based upon this type of software.
  • On the other hand other companies, for example Microsoft, follow a different school of thought. Any software developed by Microsoft is subject to restrictions on its use and distribution, in line with the free market principle.

As Google outlined in a recent strategy memo: in the long term open systems are much more likely to succeed. If a business can only be profitable by placing restrictions, then customers will always be looking for cost-free alternatives. However, if a business allows its customers freedom to choose alternative providers, this will force the business to keep at the leading edge.

What about IBM? What do we think and why?

We believe there are many situations where users are willing to pay for proprietary licensed software because they believe that the software in question contains a significant competitive advantage over any open source alternative. In fact we receive billions of dollars in software license revenue every year to validate the accuracy of this view. However, IBM is also the world’s largest corporate contribution to open source software projects. Until a few years ago most users felt that none of the open source distributions were suitable for use as a desktop operating system for most knowledge workers. This meant that the bulk of the market was divided between Windows and MacOS – both of which were only available under a proprietary license. However, recently both Fedora and Ubuntu have gained praise for their ease.

In short, we feel that it is important to educate users about the choices available to them. We chose to demonstrate Ubuntu at BTYSTE because it has proved very popular among novice users. In addition Ubuntu has a very strong community involvement. For example, the UK Ubuntu Podcast is very popular and this post by talks about recent activity in the Ubuntu Women’s community.

If you want to learn more details about why IBM believes Open Standards and Software are good for business, you can view this 90 minute talk by Bob Sutor, Vice President of Open Source and Linux.

In the meantime, come and see for yourself and get a free copy of Ubuntu 🙂

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Comments»

1. Fred Raguillat - January 15, 2010

A great post Brian (as usual)! very informative with lots of links to learn more about open source & the related OS! 😉

2. bodonovan - January 16, 2010

Fred,

Thanks for your kind comment. I think Alessandre deserve much of the credit, she helped make significant improvents to my initial draft.

Brian


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