In spite of its maturity and benefits, however, open source software is still trying to win over Canadian and U.S. IT leaders as a credible alternative to their closed-source cousins.Info-Tech Research Group‘s recent survey of over 1,700 IT professionals tells the tale of a software licensing model and delivery paradigm that is slowly, if somewhat painfully, gaining acceptance.

In spite of the widely touted gains made by Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, BIND and others, the response to open source, by and large, remains tepid at best.

Open source software such as BIND, LDAP and sendmail facilitate domain management, security management and communication for millions of users. Yet despite the ubiquity, stability and robustness of these solutions, the results of our survey show that many IT managers still consider open source unsuitable for their environments.

There are two reasons for this attitude: commercial applications are more mature and feature rich, and command greater mindshare than their open source cousins; and the open source movement lacks the marketing muscle available to commercial software vendors.

Open source software has long been the domain of operating systems, application development tools and network connectivity software. Their maturity in these areas is unquestioned.

However, open source vendors are trying to make headway into the enterprise with business intelligence, customer relationship management and Web content management solutions.

These open source enterprise solutions typically implement the highly commoditized features and functions of the enterprise application and are usually short on innovative techniques. As a result, IT professionals in mid-sized and large enterprises who are looking for an enterprise solution will usually find the open source offerings lag their closed source counterparts by at least five years.

This explains why companies with more than 500 employees are more bearish on open source than smaller organizations. More than 30 per cent of Canadian companies with more than 500 employees disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “Open source software delivers the best value.” In companies with fewer than 100 employees, just 10 per cent of companies disagreed or strongly disagreed with that viewpoint.

Other open source shortcomings are a lack of marketing muscle and the inherent tech-centric culture that dominates many open source projects.

Without the marketing savvy to gloss over the warts of some open source solutions, the weaknesses in the software are fully exposed and derided by their better-funded commercial software competitors.

The language used by the open source community is another roadblock to mainstream adoption. It consistently uses “geek-speak” like “unstable” to describe the pre-alpha, alpha and in some cases beta versions of its software. Open source vendors are shooting themselves in the foot by using these negative words to describe their product. In fact, some have even gone so far as to suggest if open source suppliers were responsible for marketing sushi, they’d sell it as “cold, dead fish.”

Poor choice of marketing lingo also causes risk-averse IT professionals to be wary of open source. This fact is borne out by our research. Less than 25 per cent of Canadian respondents in companies with more than 500 employees see open source as the best approach for any type of technology. In the U.S., this number is higher: less than 40 per cent of companies with more than 500 employees see open source as the best approach for any type of technology.

Open source has made great headway in the market and is gaining converts, but it has a long way to go before it becomes a mainstream alternative. Until open source vendors catch up with their commercial counterparts in terms of features and marketing, open source software will face a perennial uphill battle against fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).

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