Corporates serious about open source on desktops

It is only in the past six months or so that corporates have moved towards the large-scale implementation of open source software...

It is only in the past six months or so that corporates have moved towards the large-scale implementation of open source software on the desktop, but it is not as simple as protagonists would have us believe, according to user group The Corporate IT Forum (Tif).

Tif's insights into open source implementation come from a workshop held for senior IT directors in January. It found that many of the UK's largest companies have programmes to put open source in the mainstream business environment.

The main driver for this change is frustration at the number of upgrades and related problems that proprietary software is causing, as well as the cost of supporting the desktop. Corprate IT directors want to control when they bring in upgrades, and they say they will no longer put up with being hurried into upgrades by their suppliers.

One finding at the workshop was that open source implementations require a very different approach to using proprietary software. "You will have to do a good deal of your own legwork," said one senior IT user.

In practice, those organisations implementing open source did not find security a major problem, and in some ways it was easier, despite the source code being available to hackers.

Tif members said the free availability of the source code helped them to identify vulnerabilities early and get them fixed at the beginning of the software's lifecycle. They said problems came to light earlier when working with source code, rather than trying to "observe" issues with a black box operating system.

In defining and proving the business case for open source, IT directors should understand the size of the user base and the applications that could be moved successfully to an open source environment.

There is a risk of higher support costs, which can be mitigated by reduced complexity. Users should also cost in stability and security against the costs of patching and operational support of the current environment, and also look at total cost of ownership calculations over five to eight years, Tif said.

Users should ask themselves what weighting they give to fears of being locked in to the current environment, and should evaluate their business case based on their own total cost of ownership model.

The pros and cons of open source     

Benefits of open source 

  • Reduced licensing costs 
  • Extending the hardware lifecycle 
  • Avoiding lock-in to proprietary software 
  • Stability 
  • Language support is extensive, and custom support can be built 
  • Free availability of source code means vulnerabilities can be identified earlier 
  • Desktops can be "locked down".   

Challenges of open source 

  • Finding a supplier, packaging and supporting your implementation 
  • Integration 
  • Interoperability is not yet fully satisfactory 
  • Lack of conversion software for project management/graphics development/word processing 
  • Immaturity of enterprise management tools 
  • Collaborative editing in a mixed desktop environment 
  • Synchronisation of PDAs and laptops etc 
  • Getting management support 
  • Scarcity of skills. Internal development of skills is not problematic, it is new, interesting and more challenging. The issue is experience. Experienced staff will be expensive as a corporate market emerges. Expect some attrition of skilled people.  Source: the Corporate IT Forum   

Tif conference   

Tif is holding its annual conference for senior IT users on Wednesday, 9 June in Glaziers Hall, London. Entitled "Today, Tomorrow", this year's conference will focus on returning to working in a more expansive environment after the constrained conditions of the economic downturn.   Tif will be admitting non-member IT users to its conference this year.  

Tif is also currently soliciting entries for its 2004 awards for the best IT projects showing business profitability or technical innovation. The competition is for user organisations with a turnover of upwards of £100m and an IT infrastructure budget of at least £2m. The closing date is 16 April.   '

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