Thought for the day: The jury's out on open source

The battle between open source and Windows still appears to be a hot topic for debate, but businesses can't afford to be naive,...

New Asset

The battle between open source and Windows still appears to be a hot topic for debate, but businesses can't afford to be naive, until there is proof in favour of one or the other, says Simon Moores.




I was a little shocked by the aggressive response to my column Open source, open season in Computer Weekly last week.

I had believed I was taking a balanced view of the open source debate, but others, mostly newsgroups from the US, see it rather differently.

The strength of opinion appears to support my view that the open-source argument is assuming far more of an ideological position than is healthy for the industry and, in some cases, it approaches the margins of obsession.

I showed some of the more savage newsgroup postings to a friend in a leading IT company, who is equally agnostic about the future of open-source computing.

"It is the same lack of logic that was common in the dotcom boom that I see being repeated in the newsgroups on Linux," she remarked. I think only time will tell, as it did with the dotcom bust, for logic and reality to win."

As a columnist, I don't mind criticism. In fact, I welcome it because sensible debate is what we need to discuss the future of computing, whether this leads to a Microsoft or open-source delivery model.

What worries me is the unshakeable conviction on the part of some, that Microsoft is the Antichrist, and that Linux represents a form of digital salvation which answers all today's problems.

Business can’t afford the simple naivety “Linux good, Windows bad”, simply because people prefer a “wormridden”, but richly functional desktop and commodity software environment, to one which is free, flexible, open and still not quite ready for my mother to manage without asking for help.

Let me offer two examples from this past week which has influenced my thinking.

The first is from local government, a migration study which involved kicking out Novell and GroupWise and replacing these with Windows 2000, Exchange and Windows Terminal Server.

“We needed reduced cost of ownership and a platform that allows the council to respond to change quickly and easily,” said the IT director.

“We were replacing the technology supporting our core and critical processes, so we recognised the cost and performance advantages offered by Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows Terminal Server and Microsoft Exchange over what we had before.”

The second was a large German financial institution which is introducing a new managed security model to link its branches, partners and customers over an IP network.

In this case, it was Windows being completely replaced with a mix of Solaris and Linux solutions and the argument wasn’t one of cost or, even, a fundamental certainty that Unix is more secure - it was simply a question of failing into line behind a government policy which has decided that Windows has to go.

So one government, our own, is agnostic and the other, Germany, quite sensibly, wishes to support SuSE and believes that in the end choosing Linux over Windows will lead to a lower cost of ownership and a more secure computing environment.

The corner I’m arguing is that businesses want both security and lower total cost of ownership. And as much as some people would like to see Microsoft languishing on death row, the jury, Gartner, IDC, Meta and others, still have failed to reach a majority decision, in the absence of any hard proof in favour of one or the other distribution models.

Simply claiming "Linux is better” isn’t enough because business thrives on certainty and certainty is absent on both sides of the debate.

So, let’s try and keep this very important argument at an unemotional, technical level where business can decide on the facts, and not the kind of anti-establishment rhetoric which has found a focus in the battle between two very different views of what an operating system should be.

What do you think?

Have you made your mind up about open source? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit

Read more on Operating systems software