November 30, 1999

Survey: Cost the key factor in pushing business to Open Source

Author: JT Smith

-
By John Lettice
of The Register -

Major businesses could well be poised to embrace Open Source software, with cost, control over development and "an alternative to the status quo" being prime considerations, according to survey data released today by OpenForum Europe. OpenForum, which aims to accelerate the deployment of Open Source software in business and government, jointly funded the survey with the UK's Department of Trade and Industry.

Over three months, 79 CIOs and financial directors in financial services, retail and public sector were interviewed, and the results suggest both a receptiveness on their part to moving to Open Source, and problems ahead for Microsoft's "upgrade escalator" sales model. Perceptions actually varied surprisingly little between users and non-users of Open Source software. Some 64 percent of users felt a benefit of Open Source was to decrease general costs, against a still substantial 49 percent of non-users. This was by far the biggest perceived benefit, with development control (23 percent and 14 percent respectively) and lower software licensing costs (23 and 24 percent) coming next. Licensing costs are the major issue as far as total cost of ownership is concerned.

Then comes "an alternative to the status quo," with 23 percent and 14 percent, and we think we know who they mean here. Access to source, cross-platform capabilities and customisability come fairly low down, which suggests that they really just want a cheaper, commodity alternative, rather than to be able to sing and dance as well. Another item of concern for Microsoft will surely be that reasonable numbers of them (26 percent in the retail business) propose slowing down the upgrade cycle as an important part of their licensing cost strategy.

So why don't they jump? Availability of support is seen as the major challenge, and beyond that they're all over the place. Cross platform compatibility also comes second in the challenges section (23 percent and 16 percent), but there's a whole raft of other concerns of a similar order. Here, though, the users and non-users diverge most clearly, with non-users worrying hard about no track record (24 percent), "due diligence process unproven" (a legal thing) 19 percent, and credibility of supplier (19 percent).

So there's still a sales job to be done on the people who haven't bought into it yet, and over at the purse strings of the banks we barely seem to have started yet. Only 6 percent of bank financial directors admit to having heard a little about Open Source from their IT departments, while the balance confidently assert "none."

But the good news: 86 percent of CIOs intend to run Open Source at infrastructure level, 17 percent will use it for business critical apps, and 14 percent apiece reckon it will play on the desktop and handhelds. So we can't expect a major desktop and device rollout soon, but the server end of the business looks plausible, which is of course as it should be, given the current nature of the platforms.

Unlike the more overtly geeky Open Source organisations we're familiar with, OpenForum Europe has set itself the tricky task of evangelising the software in business and government, which means having a few suits on board itself, and working the line between suit and geek. As we've suggested previously, blood may well be spilt on this one, but the survey is a credible first effort, and more details are available here. The next stage, spokesman Graham Taylor told The Register, is to get together some credible case studies, and a migration guide.

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