CIOs Jumping On The Free Software Bandwagon

from the good-for-them dept

For years, we’ve heard claims that, for all the wonders of “free software,” the “real” CIO would never use free software, as they would need to have a clear monetary relationship with the provider to ensure things wouldn’t go bad. Of course, that’s pretty silly. Lots of IT departments have made use of all sorts of free software such as Linux and Apache, but a new study suggests that CIOs are quite comfortable with using free software, finding that “76% of CIOs surveyed say they use free software at the enterprise level and 88% said they have free software deployed at the department level.”

Now some of this may be driven by standard free utilities like Adobe Reader, but many CIOs reports using things like OpenOffice, Google Docs, Skype and others. In fact, the study found that 54% of the CIOs for large organizations admitted to using more than 10 free software products (if you drop it to six or more, the number goes up to 84%). CIOs seemed split down the middle in preferring open source software to proprietary but still free products, which isn’t really a huge surprise.

Not surprisingly, the CIOs who use so much free software say it’s not just the “free” part that makes this happen. They still put the software through the same testing they put fee-based software, but 81% also admit that not having to pay license fees is one of the “key benefits” to going free.

While this might not be all that surprising overall, it is a pretty good view of the general impression of “free software” in the enterprise, suggesting that it’s hardly a taboo or something to be avoided.

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Comments on “CIOs Jumping On The Free Software Bandwagon”

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Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Free Software vs Freeware

Be careful to draw a distinction between “Free Software” which preserves the Four Freedoms, versus “freeware” which is merely proprietary software, typically in a cut-down cripplware/trialware/demoware version, being offered at no charge.

If you want to understand the difference, compare Mozilla Firefox with Microsoft Internet Explorer; the first one is Free Software which earns a tidy income for its developers, while the latter is freeware being offered with no coherent business model from the company which owns it. Which one is going from strength to strength, steadily gaining market share, and which one struggles just to stay in the game?

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Free Software vs Freeware

While I’m not one to harp on a company for taking proprietary software and making it available for free (“freeware”), I do agree there is a huge difference between open source “free software” and “freeware”.

As stated elsewhere, open source software adds the benefit of being highly adaptable for any given implementation. The corporation benefits from the efforts of developers that worked on the project before they adopted the software, and the open source community benefits from continued evolution of the project as it is adapted from one environment to the next.

“Freeware” is locked-down. It works for one’s environment, or it does not. “Beer for free” is not at all a bad thing, but if you can’t tweak the recipe you might be left with a bitter aftertaste, if you are able to choke it down at all.

Free(dom) is such an abused term these days.

Modplan (profile) says:

Governments have also been jumping on board with free (as in freedom) software. The UK Government for example has set requirements to at least consider open source/free software.

There’s a great article too about how free/open source software has helped Governments that otherwise can’t afford licensing costs, along side the advantage of being at less risk to vendor lock-in.

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Having spent many years working with open source...

… I think I can say there is a world of difference between using free software and using it for free. Most (all?) large organizations have support contracts with companies like Open Logic, Red Hat, IBM and Oracle, effectively displacing the cost of upfront licensing to support and maintenance. Yes, the overall costs might be down a bit, but costs have also moved from capex to opex, something which is going to cause lots of pain in the longer term.

It’s worthwhile to remember that no middle manager will risk their career on a piece of unsupported software (or at least, not supported by a commercial contract), something which is a key dynamic in enabling commercial open source businesses.

And, in the end, I don’t see a lot of IT budgets being substantially reduced, it’s just a lot of cost displacement. CIO have a schizophrenic task of both reducing costs and increasing their budgets, open source and ‘free’ software accomplishes both admirably well…

Chris Maresca (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Most corporations get support for Apache (and other FOSS) through companies like Open Logic, which does provide a contract to support Apache.

On top of that, Apache comes as part of RHEL, so if you have RHEL support, Apache is supported.

Yes, I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but no middle manager is just downloading and installing Apache in a vacuum….

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:

It's the blame game

In any case (free software with paid support, paid software with paid support, or free software with no support) there is some risk involved in shit will go wrong and your own companies hands are going to have to get dirty to fix it. Now, these are the questions that it seems the CIO asks in regards to risk assessment:

  • Can I pass the blame to someone else?
  • What is that someone else’s reputation

Whereas one would assume the smart questions are:

  • What is the risk with each of my options? Can I quantify that?
  • Is the support that is available valuable or useful in any way?
  • Does my company have people with the expertise to solve problems with option X already?
mobiGeek (profile) says:

Re: It's the blame game

I agree with the questions you have posted above, but I would add to them with questions around future requirements and capabilities of the solution.

As a company’s data grows, use of that data hopefully matures and the capabilities of the platform(s) within your IT organization allows the company to leverage that data effectively.

So paying for “support” or investing resources into a free software product should also be done looking for the ability to influence the roadmap of those softwares, both in terms of application functionality and system interoperability.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Small vs Big Businesses

Another point is, as soon as you start talking about “CIOs”, you’re immediately assuming corporations of a certain size. It’s worth pointing out that the lion’s share of the world’s GDP comes from small businesses, not large ones.

Most of my work has been for small businesses, where the boss owns the company. Such outfits have less vested interests in large deployments of proprietary software, and they find it easier to understand the benefits of Free Software, including lower compliance costs in having to keep track of licences. You don’t need to ask anyone’s permission before making a radical change to your system configuration, you just do it.

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