the two writers who pen the ZDNet blog "Between the Lines" have once again written a bit about Open Source and, once again, managed to botch it.
am i the only one who is reminded of a certain line from The Breakfast Club by that title? because it really does seem appropriate.
the title of the piece in question i s "why the third world won't save open source". and so starts the mischaracterizations right out of the gate. last time i checked open source was growing and thriving. it's not exactly in need of saving.
they go on to state that just as English is the lingua franca of business, so is Microsoft Windows, and that just as developing nations do business with the West primarily in English they will mirror the IT networks of the West to be able to communicate with them.
they are right that these emerging economies will want to be able to communicate with the west digitally. but they are wrong that it requires Microsoft Windows. email, instant messaging, PDFs, web apps and Microsoft Office format files are handled very gracefully using Open Source software. even if it's required for some odd reason to join a Microsoft-centric network as a peer, Samba does just fine. what do they think we've being doing all these years, our own little incompatible world of software? no, that's what Microsoft does. we have a different game plan.
they then state that attempts to create local software economies by promoting Open Source will fail. the writers said such initiatives are really just an attempt to hide domestic interests from foreign competition, and liken it to the PC initiatives of Brazil in the 1980s which were failures (largely because the developed world punished them for it). but unlike trying to set up your own hardware manufacturing and saying nobody else can service you, adoption Open Source does not block out foreign competition or technology. quite the opposite in fact: it invites the technology of the world in. i mena, where do they think Open Source comes from? here's a hint in case they need one.
no, adopting open source allows and encourages international businesses like IBM, HP, SUSE/Novel, Red Hat and many others who are leaders in Open Source business to service them. it just also happens to not lock out domestic business the way closed source does. so it isn't protectionism of domestic companies; in fact, it's ceasing to unduly protect foreign interests. seen for what it is, it's a move towards more truly free global markets where everyone gets to compete.
they do get one thing right at least: the cost for moving from Windows to Linux needs to be lower. this would be true no matter how little it costs: the cheaper it is to migrate to Open Source software, the more that people, companies and governments will do so. unfortunately, migration always costs money, even between two versions of the same platform. so a dream of zero cost is just that: a dream. but it can be inexpensive enough to be worthwhile.
the good news is that for many scenarios we're already there, and we're pretty darn close to being there for many more.
p.s. if your read their article, you'll notice they mention Brazil a lot. i guess Brazil's moves towards open source really have some people taking notice. and worrying. good on you, Brazil!