Promoting OSS: Baby steps


Author: Toby Richards

Having recently criticized (constructively, I hope) the OSS movement, I’d like to now point out how to best promote OSS. Despite my previous article, I do in fact believe in the open source movement, but I think that the community is going about promoting OSS in the wrong way.I think that we can all agree that GNU/Linux is the flagship OSS product. But let’s face it: for the lay person, the idea of switching out an operating system (as if the lay person knows what an “operating system” is) is overwhelming.

What if the entire OSS community were to collectively advocate for people to switch to only one OSS product? Since Linux is currently daunting to the lay person, what if every OSS advocate were to focus on getting people to switch to (for Windows)? I bet that a lot more progress would be made.

At my current place of employment, I’m trying to take an even smaller baby step: I am pushing for us to continue the use of Microsoft Office, but to switch out PowerPoint for Impress. That way we would only have to pay for a Microsoft Office Basic Edition license.

What about Outlook/Exchange? That was the whole point of my last article. advocates, rejoice: an Exchange Client Access License entitles the license holder to an Outlook license! This means that I can switch from Microsoft Office to, continue using Exchange, and pay nothing for Microsoft Outlook, even though I still use it.

If all goes well, in a few years my users/customers will be comfortable with Switching to Linux suddenly becomes much easier to swallow, because my primary productivity suite remains the same. Hopefully by this time, someone has created a fully Exchange-compatible client for Linux.

Next, all OSS advocates start promoting MySQL (sorry, PostgreSQL, you’ve got a fantastic product, but you just don’t have the momentum). With my users on Linux and, the switch to MySQL is relatively easy. Most of the suits don’t know or care about the difference between Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, or MySQL. Several years ago, the suits insisted on a commercial database because they were used to a commercial office suite and a commercial operating system. But they’re getting more comfortable with open source now. So an open source database server is accepted.

Finally, we come — ironically — full circle. Our productivity suites are open source. Our operating systems are open source. Our database server is open source. I believe that it is only at this point that the suits give up Exchange and become willing to switch to an open source groupware product.

So what I propose is this: OSS advocates unite! Whether your favorite product is, Linux, MySQL, or something else, unite for the common good under the banner of


  • Open Source