Does Linux Need a Suit?

When you ask business folk if they’ve considered hiring an IT consultant to move their company to an open-source platform, some think of a penguin logo and sleep-deprived, pony-tail-sporting developers. Others conjure up an image of an unkempt young techie with his feet up on the desk and Cheetos crumbs on his keyboard.

These perceptions may be unfair, but who said the high-tech life was fair?

Of course, large corporations with well-funded IT budgets know that Linux is a viable solution. But some suggest that Linux needs to don a suit in order to get the small- to medium-sized business executive to take the open source software seriously. Could a polished, corporate image be the thing to help Linux gain more traction in the mainstream U.S. market?

Some Casual Business Clothes

Al Canton, president of Adams Blake Company, a software consultancy and publisher, had never considered open source because he thought he wouldn’t be able to run any Windows-based software with it. But when he got tired of cleaning up viruses and other malware, Canton investigated further — and was pleasantly surprised.

Canton found a more secure platform in Mandrake that allowed him to start development on the company’s Jaya123 online Web service for small businesses. The Mandrake site had step-by-step installation instructions that had him up and running in 25 minutes.

“It’s not that Linux needs a suit so much as it needs some ‘business casual’ clothes,” Canton told LinuxInsider. “Businesses need to feel secure that they can get help and assistance with problems that they might have.”

Canton said the addition of Novell as a Linux vendor brings that security to some extent because Novell has a 20-year history of making small and large businesses comfortable with using system software other than Microsoft.

Wall Street vs. Main Street

“Linux may not need a suit, but it does need a sports coat and some khakis,” said Rob Gelphman, principal of Gelphman Associates, a marketing firm with clients that include Intel, Hitachi and Epson. “Wild-eyed evangelism might work for early adopters, but not the middle- and late-stage majority, which is where the growth comes in after the innovators and early majority.”

Gelphman is baffled as to why Linux does not play up the fact that the operating system runs native on Intel processors. If “Intel Inside” is what drives people to buy PCs and servers, and Intel is a trusted brand, he reasoned, then the Linux crowd should play off that trust factor, with or without a suit.

Evan Blomquist, a Linux instructor at The Training Camp, an IT accelerated learning provider, has a completely different perspective.

“The Free/Open-Source Software development community doesn’t take the business world too seriously, and certainly would laugh at the idea of ‘donning a suit’ to make an impression,” Blomquist said. “These people write software for the love of programming and they enjoy sharing ideas and information, an alien concept for the ‘suits’ in the business world.”

What It Takes

Gartner vice president and analyst George Weiss told LinuxInsider that it definitely doesn’t take a suit to set up a successful open-source shop.

“I wouldn’t think of it as setting up an open-source shop,” Weiss said. “I would think of it as introducing open source as a mature, alternative to your commercial products. Evaluate open-source products like you would any other products for characteristics like maturity, performance and development organization.”

Weiss added that there are plenty of suits running around boosting Linux these days — even exploiting the commercial advantages of the open-source software. Linux’s rough edges, he added, have been polished to a shine in the last 12-18 months and the questions today are less about what the developers wear and more about potential risks, like copyright infringements.

Still, even Bill Weinberg, the Open Source Development Labs’ Linux advocate, admits that the corporate community hasn’t had sufficient exposure to Linux, and there are myths circling the business world about licensing terms, actual utility and cost of ownership. But Weinberg, for one, contended that Linux is already wearing a suit.

“Look who is promoting Linux,” Weinberg said. “Companies like IBM, HP and Intel. To the extent that high-tech anywhere wears a suit, Tux is already wearing one in that he walks the halls of those Fortune 500 companies and is already accepted.”

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