The most stationary of all stationery items, scissors hate to be hurried. I learned this as a child. You did too, probably. Don't run with scissors. A clear and simple instruction. Pencils, glue, staples... no problem. For them, like us, it's a finite existence. Time is short so don't dilly dally. But don't run with scissors.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

an open and shut case?

It’s hard to like Microsoft. Unless you’re Steve Ballmer of course. Which – let’s face it – you’re not, are you?

Around 2003-2005 I did quite a lot of work for Microsoft UK including managing the case study programme for the Business Solutions (now Dynamics) division. I also developed and ran a series of initiatives aimed at providing PR services to Gold & Certified partners. During the time I was doing all this I met many Microsofties who found it hard to like their employer. Those former Microsoft employees I’ve met feel even cooler about the whole thing.

What prompts me to make this staggering observation..?

I just read an article on CRN UK entitled
Government shifts position on open source, which reports that a recent “nine point action plan” published by the UK government is going to “accelerate the pace of open source adoption in the (UK) public sector.” The BBC also ran the story.

As I read it I felt myself groan.

I’m sure there are plenty of good reasons for businesses and public sector bodies to use open source software. Personally speaking, I’ve never experienced any of them in the workplace but I’m sure they must exist. I’m often told that security is one of the key reasons to go down the open source path. That, and the oft-repeated claim that it’s more cost effective.

I’m not convinced by the cost argument. At the enterprise level, open source applications don’t tend to run out-of-the-box. Therefore they require installation, maintenance, and so on – and there are costs in all of that. But the word “free” has hung around in the open source debate for many years now and it casts a very long shadow.

I should probably stress I’m not a Microsoft fanboy. Like a lot of people I’ve had a few problems with Microsoft products. For example, I’ve had issues with Outlook not starting properly in the past but in truth that’s about as bad as it’s ever got for me. Microsoft certainly works its people very hard; there are lots of on-site facilities and you could easily stay there from early morning to late into the night. It is a lively and interesting place to visit but I’ve found some of the people who work there to be anything but.

So why the groan?

Microsoft gets bashed a lot in the UK tech press. When I was at The Register we did more than our fair share of that bashing. It wasn’t always deserved.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Microsoft spends literally millions of £s year-in, year-out in the UK. It invests a lot of time and money into its resellers and partners in terms of training, support materials, marketing funds, and so on. It spends money in the media on adverts/banners and the like. And it has a range of charity support / sponsorship initiatives in place.

I’m not saying we should doff our caps to Ballmer’s crew, nor that there aren’t any reasons to adopt open source software in specific instances. I just can’t help but think the posturing that goes on in the “open source = good, Microsoft=bad” approach isn’t looking at the whole picture and isn’t really helping anyone, least of all the customers who – when all is said and done – generally just want something that works.

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