It is quite fashionable at this time to be pro open source. “We are helping the community!” “Not one more cent to the coffers of Bill Gates!” “Linux Rocks!” “If you were smart enough, you would toss your Dell for a Mac”. These are the kinds of slogans that are hip in a tech company. Who wants a vanilla Windows computer which even a grandpa can operate. To be apple (or Ubantu) is chic.
Open Office is widely touted as 100% compatible to MS Office, and it is really quite close. I use it on my Ubantu laptop downstairs, and it is really quite good. This post is not trying to compare the two software packages (plenty of comparisons exist, see for example TechRepublic’s comparison). Rather, this post is simply trying to address the emotional and TCO aspects of open source software.
As I do a fair bit of work with Government consulting, one of the things that I (and other team members) do is to exchange documents (what a novel concept). Some of our govt clients use Microsoft Office 2003 as their “standard”. We are in no position to impose anything else, either Open Office, or MS Office 2007. If we send them a document that we edited using Open Office (and saved as .doc), and it shows up corrupted (or different) when they view it in Office 2003, it is our loss, not theirs. In that respect, it is a shame we even have this conversation in office sometimes, as if, by conversing we have any power to change anything. If you have a team member like that, chances are, he fails the emotional test to have a meaningful debate on this issue. There is not a whole lot you can do – hatred is one of the most self-consuming vices of humanity. The irony of course is that these technologists belong to overall, a really nice stereotype. They are usually environmentally sensitive, socially active, perhaps a bit starbucks crazy (and “share the road” bikers!). It is a shock to them that anyone considers them radicals (in this specific matter). Anyhow, hatred isn’t a new feeling in the tech world, or even in scientific world. Plenty of examples exist in the scientific community from 19th and 20th centuries where hatred has played a more dominating role than any scientific views and analysis.
Total Cost of Ownership Aspects
A new team member walked in the office the other day. I had interviewed him, and he got a decently high rank and was recruited. That said, he is green, fresh out of college. As if the high salary and the awesome benefits pay isn’t enough, the bugger had the nerve to ask: I need a commercial license to IDEA, I can’t stand Eclipse. My first reaction of course was SIOOMA. Then, the wisdom bug bit me and we had a conversation. He claims that he is 25% more efficient in IDEA, than in Eclipse. I morally owe it to the guy to be as successful as he can, and frankly we do have budget to allow that. Currently, he is using a 30 day license, and if it works and if he can sell the tech lead on the idea of IDEA, then I promised him 2 copies – one for him and one for the tech lead. More people can follow suit if they want to or stay with Eclipse.
So, how does this fit into the TCO model? Assume a person’s salary is 5000 $ /per month. A 20% improvement in productivity essentially means that he will be able to finish 22 days work in say 18 days, roughly saving the company 1000$ in the first month itself, effectively recuperating the 500$ software license cost in half a month. If the guy is over estimating the enhancement in his productivity, and in reality is only 5% more effective, even then the company will recuperate the cost over 2 months. In either case, if the productivity is indeed higher, then paid IDE software would beat OSS IDE hands down.
Actually, it is same reason we use Jira and BizMerlin, not open source Bugzilla, but hey no one questions that. It is simply a matter of people using a paid software as a standard, and unless there is a reason (or someone says to the contrary), one doesn’t think that that is an unjustified cost. Why pay money to Atlassian, but cringe when having to pay money to Microsoft (for Office)? There is no blanket answer, except a detailed cost benefit analysis which takes us to specific course of action.
I don’t know if there is any conclusion here – I am not trying tell you how to run your company or your business or your life. If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know that. But, one thing that should be reached is to treat each case at its face value and not to let your hatred of Microsoft or Google or Yahoo hurt your own company. Obviously, let no one go out and buy software just for the sake of doing so, but also let no one stick to open source software just for the sake of being open source.