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Terpstra: Don't choose or pitch Linux, open source just for cost savings

MiMi Yeh, Assistant Editor

IT organizations want more than cost savings from Linux and open source software (OSS). They want value. Sometimes they find that value in using an open source product on Windows instead of Linux. If that's the best fit for their needs, then it's the right decision, says John H. Terpstra, Samba team co-founder and author of

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McGraw-Hill/Osborne's Hardening Linux.

Terpstra speaks plainly about the pros and cons of choosing open source and commercial open source strategies in this interview, conducted at the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) in San Diego this week. At SCALE, Terpstra spoke on the topic of "The IT Road Ahead: Driving Home," comparing market developments of commercial and OSS and examines critical points of divergence.

What issues do you feel most Linux and/or open source conferences fail to address?

John H. Terpstra: We need to, in conferences and as a community, do a better job of ministering to the needs of our users. We need to get more users on board.

Typically, conferences are too product-focused. I've seen decisions made where companies have changed products based purely on technology -- as soon as the next bit of technology comes along, they're ready to try it again. You have no stability in the business relationship. We need to focus on building those relationships with our consumers. We can only do that by getting to their needs.

What's missing in the open source world's approach to providing support and addressing customers' needs?

Terpstra: The core issue at hand there is our understanding of what we do. I've heard people say, 'Well, we just sell widget x.' But, I ask, what is the service attached to widget x? What does it do for the customer? They say: 'People just buy widget x from us.' You go to their competitor, and they're all about selling widget y, and no one sells widget y like they do.

Which works for you? That's the question we should be asking customers.

Which is better, Windows or Linux? I get the question frequently [from customers]. The answer: Which works for you?

At the end of the day, most value-add can be measured in terms of pain taken away. We need to identify what that pain is, and we need to build a business around being tremendous anesthetists and taking their pain away.

How can a peaceful co-existence between Microsoft and Linux and open source software be achieved?

Terpstra: For starters, we need better interoperability all the time. We need to get away from the 'islands-of-technology' syndrome, because -- at the end of the day -- it works against what the customer wants to achieve.

We can be just as much an island of technology as the next player. We need to break down the barriers. We need to cooperate and co-develop.

More on this topic:

Two ways Microsoft sabotages Linux desktop adoption

Stopping Linux desktop adoption sabotage, part one

You know I opened my presentation [at SCALE] by saying I'm using OpenOffice on Windows because it doesn't crash. It's not what people wanted to hear. But I'm well-known as a Linux aficionado. And for me to get up publicly and say I have a problem…. I haven't advertised that. I haven't gone and told everybody. But I want my audience to understand that these are the sorts of decision factors that our target market deals with on a daily basis.

Are the cost savings associated with Linux and open source software directly related to return on investment?

Terpstra: Cost saving may or may not maximize return on investment. You have to look at the total picture. I've been doing business process consulting, and the first question I ask companies is: 'What are your business goals and objectives, and how does last year's IT expenditure match or reinforce those business goals and objectives?'

Over the last three years, I've seen a more acute awareness of the need to make IT expenditures drive the IT business forward.

Let's not pretend then that cost is everything. Let's get back to what are the business drivers. With that in mind, the open source community should ask: How do we make our story sound better? How do we make it resonate better with people who are making those business-type decisions?


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