One would think that corporate IT decisions are made with the utmost care. Think again.
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In researching two guides to Samba-3, John H. Terpstra found that IT decision makers often choose products without due diligence, and often base their dismissals of Linux and open source software on misinformation.
In this interview, Terpstra shoots down some pernicious misunderstandings about Linux and open source and explains how IT organizations often end up shunning their IT planning duties. Terpstra also explains why he believes users and IT pros could lose their jobs by sticking with familiar applications.
Terpstra is author of the new books, Samba-3 by Example: Practical Exercises to Successful Deployment, 2nd Edition and The Official Samba-3 HOWTO and Reference Guide, 2nd Edition. He is also president of the IT consulting firm Primastasys Inc. and co-founder of the Samba team.
Have IT decision makers told you why they were reluctant to switch to Linux and open source applications? If so, what's your response to them?
John H. Terpstra: Many people complain that the cost of re-training staff to use Linux is too high.
Let's consider that argument further: Approximately half of all Windows file and print servers run Samba on a Linux server, and the users are completely unaware of this fact. Approximately 70% of all Web servers use Apache on Linux, FreeBSD or on Unix, and users are equally unaware of this fact.
People use Windows PCs that often obtain the machine IP address via the ISC DHCP [Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol] server that is running on Linux, and they are not in the slightest bit aware of the fact that the business already uses Linux. The same can be said of DNS [domain name system], the name resolution technology that powers the Internet.
Today, many open source applications -- such as FireFox and OpenOffice -- can be used on Windows platforms, as well as Linux platforms. These applications are much like their Microsoft counterparts in that they are just as intuitive and require virtually no re-learning. Both look and feel identical on Windows and on Linux.
A Linux workstation and a Windows workstation share a common reason for being in that both are designed to permit the user to complete certain work-oriented tasks.
So, choosing open source doesn't lock a business out of Microsoft's operating systems and applications?
Terpstra: Every Microsoft network infrastructure application can be replaced with an open source application that provides equivalent or better services. The open source applications can be integrated with the Windows desktop client tools users are familiar with -- to such an extent that they do not need to change their habits. The change is largely transparent.
This brings the desktop into consideration. The only technical obstacle to replacing many Windows systems is the fact that users are hooked on certain business applications that are not available on platforms other than Windows.
So what? There is no moral or ethical imperative to change the desktop, at least not that I am aware of.
Rather we should consider this proposition: Every business should use the tools that are most appropriate to help the business to meet its goals and objectives.
Do many companies make IT decisions on the basis of misinformation?
Terpstra: Too many businesses make changes without first establishing tangible goals and objectives that are oriented around the goals and objectives of the business as a whole.
When I am asked, 'Why should I move to Linux?' my reply is usually, 'To do what?' So my first word of advice is to clarify the goals, objectives, purposes and return on investment that must be made to make the change.
Long story made short -- there is one option: How long does the business want to keep operating?
If there are no long-term goals, the decision to use Windows or Linux does not matter. If there is a strong desire to survive the current crunch profitably, then make the right choice.
Do you think that some IT decision makers use their employees' familiarity with Windows and Windows apps as a cop-out, an excuse not to make a change that could better help them meet their objectives?
Terpstra: The decision is certainly not limited by technology: Open source can do far more than a few limited Windows applications.
As I said earlier, the user need not be disrupted by a change of platform; but the user had better be prepared to use the right tool to get the job done, or face long-term loss of employment.
If staff will not use the right tool, maybe it is time to replace the staff, as well as the outmoded tools they insist on using.
The present business climate is ruthless. Companies that are inefficient will go out of business. Staffs that are inefficient will either be replaced or their jobs will be sent overseas. Every business must take stock of the business climate, the quest for profitability makes it imperative that the right IT decisions are made for the company.
Is the all-Linux, all-open source software enterprise a goal that IT shops should set?
Terpstra: No! All IT shops should set, as the first and foremost goal, the alignment of IT goals and objectives with those of the organization they serve. Only then can they begin to identify what are the most appropriate directional strategies for IT deployment and control.
If the organization has a firm grasp on business ethics, IT practices will follow the principles that emerge from them. The all-for-one or none-at-all mentality belongs to the thug element of society. The issue is not at heart a question of one or the other, it is not one of which is best, it is one of what is the right solution for the organization as a whole and that will best project it toward its long-term goals.
That said, in general, do you still see good reasons to choose Linux over Windows?
Terpstra: Cost control is one of many factors that may cause a business to choose to use Linux or other open source software. Other factors include autonomy, freedom from lock-in, ability to customize the application to better meet business needs, flexibility, accountability to other vendors, license management challenges, virus concerns, security, stability and so on.