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Column: IT pros' compelling reasons for choosing OSS

Jan Stafford

If any company knows tools, it's Black and Decker, Inc. of Towson, Md. But Black & Decker's expertise isn't limited to the power tools it makes. The company is also savvy about IT tools, savvy enough to be saving money and increasing staff productivity with open source tools, according to Julie Ford, Black and Decker Applications Analyst, SAP Security, eRoom | Black & Decker, Inc.

Ford was one of three dozen IT pros who responded to SearchEnterpriseLinux.com's query: "Got open source?" It was an informal query, sent out only to select group of the site's 80,000+ subscribers. Here's a look at the open source software (OSS) these organizations are using, and why they chose OSS.

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Who's using open source software (OSS)? Get a personal view from Glenn Parsons, systems administrator and developer for BGR Enterprises LLC of  Bethesda, Md. In his own words, is his OSS list.  

Saving money is the most compelling reason to use OSS.

Using OSS saves money in both the price and management of software, according to almost every respondent. For example, Black & Decker uses such OSS as Red Hat and SuSE Linux, Samba and Midnight Commander. Ford explained that Linux was chosen for test servers and system administrators' desktops because of cost. Black & Decker's developers use more open source tools for IBM AIX than Ford can count, even though IBM offers similar tools.

"IBM had solutions, but we didn't have the courage to rob a bank to purchase those solutions," Ford said. "The same goes for the Apache and Tomcat implementations. IIS was too expensive, too hard to manage with the infinite, unending number of patches, and there was just a better, cheaper way to do the job."

Most respondents got their start in OSS with Apache.

Free Apache Web and Tomcat application/Web servers were used by almost all respondents, and most say it was the first OSS they used. All users cited cost savings and ease of use as its benefits. Besides being free, "it was easy for existing staff to develop the skills to maintain (Apache)," said Stephen Booth, an IT manager for a large public sector unitary authority in the U.K.

Booth's organization also uses Tomcat, vi/Vim, cygwin-X, OpenOffice.org and other open source products. They fulfill a need, work well and don't come with license fees, he said.

A few respondents' entire organizations have moved to Linux on the desktop and OpenOffice.org, but almost all respondents' IT people are using both.

Black & Decker's administrators and developers chose Linux desktops to escape from "the absolutely painful experience of managing a Unix server from a Windows telnet session," said Ford. "Yuck!"

OpenOffice.org is used in much of Freescale Semiconductors in Austin, Tex. because of its interoperability features, said Brian Myers, Unix system administration manager of the Network Multimedia Operations Division. Users there need to read Word and Excel documents on Sun Solaris and Red Hat Linux desktops. Freescale uses more OSS than Myers had time to list. Here's a sampling: Sendmail; Apache Web server; GCC; Mozilla: and MySQL.

Beyond using OpenOffice.org, Zied Fakhfakh is evangelizing it. OpenOffice is a "completely satisfying office suite," said Fakhfakh, CTO and founder of dotTN, a computer services company in Tunisia. "I can do whatever I want to -- even writing in Arabic, which is my native language -- and it's stable." When giving presentations at computer conferences in Tunisia, Fakhfakh always mentions that he's using a Linux desktop and OpenOffice, "just to say, indirectly, that it's possible."

Now that they know what's possible with OSS, all respondents plan to use more of it in their organizations.

IT pros reported that their CEOs and users are more open to using OSS. Because OSS was easy and free to download and test, IT shops have used it and can demonstrate their successes. They're establishing methodologies for OSS evaluation and implementation in preparation for migrating more mission critical apps to open source alternatives.

The entry of major vendors, such as Computer Associates and Novell Inc., into the OSS realm will spur more usage of OSS, respondents said. That's certainly true for Boston-based real estate consultant firm, Colliers International, said IT manager Brian Joe. "We use Apache Web server on our NetWare servers as Novell includes this as a choice for web servers," he said. Novell also offers information on the Web that make it easier to choose and use OSS. "This is a huge plus for us as we can leverage more open source apps from there," he said.

In general, respondents reported that they'd evaluated the alternatives in various software categories and found that OSS give them equal or better functionality at less cost than proprietary products.

Now, most of these conclusions seem like no-brainers to those of use who already use OSS. It's obvious to us that open source software is cheaper, easier to use and offers equal or better functionality than peer proprietary tools and applications. That message, and the evidence offered by this query's respondents, bears repeating, however, until mainstream corporate users and decision makers know about the OSS alternative.


So, what's your open source software story? Tell us about your first experience with and how you got "hooked" on open source software. The first, fifth and tenth respondents will receive a copy of Red Hat Linux Adminstration: A beginner's guide (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media). Send your story to mailto:editor@searchenterpriselinux.com.



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