Keeping up with the Joneses

Mark Hinkle cautions against IT professionals becoming single-vendor dependent and touts the position of open source technologies in the operating system and flashy gadgets realms

This tip originally appeared on TechTarget's Expert Answer Center as a post in Mark Hinkle's blog. Mark served as the on-demand expert on the Expert Answer Center for two weeks in December, during which he was available to quickly answer questions on Linux/Windows interoperability as well as to write daily blog entries. Keep an eye on the Expert Answer Center for topics that could help your IT shop.


I was reading a message board and saw this message, which got my wheels turning:

Our company doesn't have the $$ to continually buy new hardware, new software, new operating systems every couple of years. We also do not have a reason to move to a wireless solution as we don't have 100s of administrative people roaming around the company with their laptops.

What our IT department sees is hype and sales ploys that tug on competitiveness with pitches that play the "keeping up with the Jones' [sic] next door" game or "you're a loser if you don't have the latest and greatest."

Simply put, to those that sell IT stuff is a business. Those of us who use it, it's just a tool. We simply don't have the $$ to continually buy new, very expensive, hip tools when the old ones work just fine for us.

I loved this posting because this guy is a Linux convert waiting to happen. It seems to me that many people, present company included, are tempted by shiny new gizmos and gadgets that come in the form of new processors and ultra-super-featherweight laptops. It's a classic case of need versus want. Personally, the want often overcomes the need, but in those cases I am accountable just to myself. In the business world we are accountable to our stakeholders and need should outweigh want.

For most companies information technology is not a business driver, it's a tool to help you accomplish core competency, whether it's running a hospital or managing air traffic at an airport. The problem that I see is that many software vendors have us locked into a upgrade cycle, despite the fact that many jobs haven't changed in the last five years and the tasks that we did five years ago can still be accomplished adequately with what we have today. But, with end-of-product support lifetimes and new security risks, many companies feel vulnerable to attack if they don't upgrade their operating systems, which has a domino effect because application upgrades can spark OS upgrades, which can force hardware upgrades.

When you become single-vendor dependent, you may be coerced into upgrades that sap profits and force you to march to the beat of one drum. That's my problem with Microsoft Windows. Going back to the days of my college economics class, I learned that a market in which any supplier owns the vast majority of market share (I won't say "monopoly" here, but I want to) leads to an inefficient market. Actually I think Linux is one of the best things that happened to Microsoft in a long time, since Linux is pushing the company to improve in ways it might not have, given a lack of competition. You see, I like Linux, but I don't hate Microsoft; I just feel that the company pushes an agenda that benefits them more than me. Linux is introducing competition that may have positive effects on Microsoft and vice-versa. Competition is good; I take the example of the Red Sox and Yankees this year in the AL pennant race. I hadn't watched a baseball game in its entirety all year until this series, of which I watched every single game. Why? Because the competitive nature of the series improved its entertainment value for me and millions of others. Hopefully open source competition will raise the bar for many companies.

Lack of competition is not just a factor for operating systems. I recently attended a conference for hospital CIOs and sat in a meeting in which every single one of them used a product or group of products by one company. They informed me that they all used it and they all had issues with this group of products. Actually, in the morning session with that company, they verbally bludgeoned the company representative for hours. However, there were no alternatives in their vertical market, and they learned to live with it. Now my first thought was: Let's start a project that's an open source alternative to this suite of products. But soon I got bogged down, and it was out of my thoughts until today. However, this is another prime example of a huge market (I suspect these products yield billions of dollars in revenue for that company) that is served by a single vendor who has the lion's share and other proprietary vendors don't have the resources to tackle the challenge and unseat the 800-pound gorilla or even put it on a diet. An open source model that allows a group of vendors to compete with this Colossus would benefit the end users or consumers greatly. This is really the heart of why Linux and open source technologies (e.g., Apache, JBoss and MySQL) are making an impact on today's software industry.


Even though Mark Hinkle's stint on the Expert Answer Center is over, he is always ready to answer your questions on SearchEnterpriseLinux.com. Ask him your most pressing Windows-to-Linux migration and interoperability question.

This was first published in January 2005

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