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i-Technology Viewpoint: The New Paradigm of IT Buying

"Technology should add value to your business, not hold it captive."

With the U.S. economy and IT spending finally appearing to be making a comeback and China and India adopting IT faster than you can say symmetric multiprocessing, why am I predicting layoffs?

I'm not predicting layoffs so much as a shift from vendors and service providers who don't support the integration of open source and commercial systems. You see, I lead somewhat of a sheltered life - I usually speak with people in the open source field, the IT professionals who drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. They already have IT plans that encompass open source operating systems, such as Linux and other systems, and software that adhere to open standards. However, as I try to expand my horizons, I'm finding more people who use vendors that are not interested in supporting open standards or interacting with community-developed open source software. They claim this puts them at risk because open systems are often untested.

I'll let you in on a little secret: even the commercial tested solutions often aren't all they're cracked up to be; even worse, if there is a problem, you are at the mercy of the vendors as they dictate when they will be fixing bugs and adding features. Are you paying them for that? Here's a novel idea: What if we moved software to a performance-based model where you pay your vendor based on the level at which the software meets your needs? That would be a nice change. How about a tool that claims to increase your knowledge worker productivity and actually does so. Rather than charging royalties, they simply split the savings with you over the useful life of the product. If it works, it might be more profitable for the vendor and it will yield greater savings to the technology consumer.

The reason I find the complaints of those hemmed in by their vendors so offensive is that as they complain about their woes, they continue to put themselves in harms way. Why would you ever sign up for a product, service, or piece of hardware that locks you into a long-use cycle and potentially has you following decisions mandated by your vendor rather than your business. I am aware that there are certain tools out there that are necessary for certain industries (e.g., medical, and manufacturing) and require specialization, but what about other types of industries where needs can be met by a multitude of solutions. I can't emphasize this enough in the office suites; the release of OpenOffice.org 2.0 may have come and gone as has StarOffice 8.0 by the time you read this and with these new releases I expect that even more people will find an alternative to Microsoft's Office Suite.

The new paradigm of IT buying will be one where you buy services rather than licenses or at least support entitlements to IT products, and office suites are just one area of that. Also when looking for these gems I can see big opportunities in the following areas:

  • Databases: As we accumulate more and more data, especially as a result of e-commerce and other computer-related transactions, more businesses will have a need for databases, however, the per-seat access license model is not attractive to me. Consider looking at MySQL (www.mysql.org) or PostgresSQL (www.postgres.org), especially where the data needs to be stored, but advanced database features are lost on many users. If you need help, you can turn to vendors MySQL AB (www.mysql.com) or EnterpriseDB (www.enterprisedb.com) for support.
  • File and Print Services: Perhaps my biggest gripe is with the file and print services model that requires client access licensing. Does the server require any more support or attention from the vendor whether it serves one user or 100? Is there more value added by incremental user additions? I have a hard time believing there is. So why be charged as if there were? Consider Samba (www.samba.org) running on one of the many flavors of Linux; you can still use a Windows desktop because Samba accepts connections from Windows, no CALs required.
  • Content Management Systems: Doing business on the Web is a critical part of commerce for even small businesses, as is having the ability for data to flow from the enterprise to the end user. This can be facilitated by user-friendly content management systems or complex Web applications that require the ability to provide services based on business logic. Consider the small to medium business, for example, Joomla! (www.joomla.org), or complex enterprise applications, for example, JBoss (www.jboss.com) - both are open source and have large and successful user bases, and once again there are commercial support venues for these software packages.
If you've read any of my previous editorials, you may envision me as a "bible-thumping" preacher of sorts. The message that you need to start taking away from our publication, beyond the success stories of Linux and product updates, is that not all commercial software is evil and not all open source software is untested, and that you should look for solutions that are not apt to lock you into future decisions that limit your choice of vendors. Technology should add value to your business, not hold it captive.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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