Friday, March 18, 2005

No such thing as a free lunch

Something I've always wondered about are the enormous predictions made for the value of the Linux market in the future. $35bn per annum, or some such. Where's that IT spend going, if the OS is free?

My assumption has always been that it would be in the consultancy market. But, according to Tech News on ZDNet - Open source--open opportunity for consulting - the consultancy firms aren't really moving in for the kill.

While I'm at it, I liked this bit:

The order-of-magnitude cost savings more than justified the consultancy fees and the stranglehold of proprietary hardware architectures was broken forever.

From what I can see, not only do the cost savings rarely justify the consultancy fees, but you get locked into paying the consultancy fees over and over.

Let's face it, the reason Oracle and IBM want to encourage you to use cheaper solutions is not to save you money, it's so you have more cash left over to give them a bigger slice of the pie.

So why aren't consultancies falling over themselves trying to get customers using open source? They have the opportunity - following the previous argument - to save you some money so that they can increase their fees.

And what consultancies thrive on is change and complexity. The latter being a barrier to the former that can only be overcome by the transfer of large fees in their direction. Many commercial packages are outstanding examples of complexity and opaqueness. The suppliers are clearly in league with the consultancies, as you can't just pick up the thing and make it work. (And in cahoots with book publishers and purveyors of training courses at the same time.) And the idea that you could take a new version and just install it, and everything would just work afterwards, with all your customizations carried forward correctly, while maintaining compatibility with older versions of clients and servers, well that's just a dream isn't it?

While commercial packages seem to embrace change and complexity as a matter of policy, open source isn't immune to this disease. Change is often seen as a desirable attribute, compatibility over time and between releases isn't always a high priority, and so there's clearly an opportunity for consultants to step in and manage the process (and taking their fees along the way). Of course, there are examples of companies or products that want to step into this space and help you out.

What is the barrier, though? Is it that those organizations that are predisposed to open source solutions have an inbuilt aversion to consultancy? Or have consultancies worked out that, because they cannot control the change and complexity of open source, that it would actually cost them more?


bill said...

The solution is quite simple. Learn *NIX systems and use those, your flavor of choice.

What I never understand -- why is the choice of OS always talked about and not the solution. Makes no sense.

For the most part, Linux, which is what people think of incorrectly when they say open source, is a big swamp. A 1000 incompatible, mostly broken distributions, with a healthy helping of upgrade hell. Try and 'upgrade' from SUSE 9.0 to SUSE 9.3 and see what happens to your data and solution. You are basically stuck with the old version, until they decide it's obselete.

My guess is most of the gum flappers never use Linux long enough to worry, they just go on to the next distro that is cool. One upgrade cycle of Linux when trying to do real work, and you quickly see the problem. Dump the OS and reinstall is not a solution.

There is no free lunch and after going the Linux route I am going back to BSD, or maybe even OpenSolaris. I got work to do.

The size of the market for a free OS, now that is a contridiction if there ever was one. Define free.

Peter Tribble said...

But snooker, I'm quite happy with something that just works (which is why I use Solaris). My point was not that customers could choose solutions that just work, but that the consultancy companies seem to be missing a big opportunity by not leading their customers into the swamp (and then charging an arm and a leg to keep the customers alive).

I think the old adage is "where there's muck there's brass".