You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink


Not long ago, a family member's company discovered their former IT consultant had dealt with them dishonestly. The office had paid him for a number of MS Office licenses, but later found out that only one licensed version been installed on all their systems. Since this was a small business with a limited budget, I suggested they try OpenOffice. But, in the end, they chose to purchase MS Office again.

So I asked, “Why?” The answers were revealing into potential barriers from individuals when recommending FOSS.

Ignorance was the first barrier. There was a general lack of knowledge about the existence of FOSS alternatives. The marketing of proprietary software, especially from the larger companies, is ubiquitous. They have the budget and manpower to push a product at a person. While the small company was aware of the proprietary programs (ie: MS Office, Quicken, etc), the employees and owner had never heard of FOSS or OpenOffice.

By contrast, the many users find a FOSS application through word-of-mouth or an internet search. The free software structure doesn't necessarily lend itself to a structured marketing campaign. But this is changing. The Mozilla community has been a leader in establishing a marketing brand and image. Their use of newspaper and now TV ads has helped developed a brand name. However, I'm not discounting the power of word-of-mouth. There are people who would try an application simply because they trust you. Keep educating people about FOSS.

Another barrier was distribution routes. The company's first question was “Where do I buy the installation CD?”. People are comfortable with the idea of walking into a store and purchasing a brand name. It is what we do with clothes, electronics, toys etc. So there's no real surprise that people shop for software in the same fashion.

Typically, you can't acquire a FOSS program at a store while shopping for other items. Alternative distribution methods include: The OpenCD, WinLibre, emailing someone a download link or personally installing the program. All these options help circumvent this barrier.

License uncertainty was another barrier. Since many users accept software licenses without actually reading the license, I was surprised when the response was “this free software cannot be legal”. There was a real belief that the company would just be pirating a different program. Since licensing issues created the original problem, a sensitivity to licensing was understandable. However, more troubling was the concept that without a monetary exchange using the software was unethical. Despite repeated reassurances, this lingering uncertainty never went away in this situation.

The final barrier, in this specific situation, was employee resistance to change. The business did have a few employees look at OpenOffice. One key employee stated that she didn't want to learn another program and she would work only on MS Office. That statement influenced the other employees and quickly shut down the process. If you run into an individual who is the barrier, an appealing business case to the owner can get the process started again. But small businesses struggle if they lose some key personnel. In this case, the owner didn't want to chance losing this employee. In the big picture, I understand that decision.

However, sometimes you make a recommendation and the fit is obvious to the user. I worked with a different small business that was replacing all their PC's. This company chose to use FOSS productivity applications. They used the money saved to purchase more advanced hardware than originally planned. They were enthusiastic about the opportunities they perceived: free software, free upgrades and spending their limited funds elsewhere.

Every individual and company is different. I try to minimize these barriers as much as possible, but drinking from the watering-hole is ultimately their choice.

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Comments

tuxicity's picture
Submitted by tuxicity on

The first time I successfully installed a Linux OS was back in 2001 with a RH7.1 install.
I was thrilled, everything worked!
Somehow I thought I should buy the RH7.1 box, my brainwashed mind believed it would be a "better" version then. To my big surprise it was exactly the same as the downloaded version! I was stunned. The idea that I did not have to buy to get the real thing took me a while to get used to.
In my opinion its this Microsoft-brainwash whats causing most misunderstandings about free software.
Its more about retraining the mind then about minimizing barriers to enable people to make new choices.

http://tuxicity.wordpress.com/

raseel's picture
Submitted by raseel on

Ironically, I just read a Blog (or was it just a long comment) on how people are not too keen on buying OSS. All in all, the problems you listed have been the default problems faced by all Free Software evangelists.
I think a Live CD is one the most effective weapons we have in this war.
Demo them an OS working right out of a CD, with software doing as much as their old OS .... and more. A li'l eye-candy here, a li'l trivia there ... and I'm sure, they are bound to atleast google some more info about FS , although they might not agree on your face

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

All these reasons are universal, therefore the FLOSS advocate knows to address them in their presentation/arguments etc.

The second thing is to have a really fast distro and OO loaded onto your laptop, network it to the corporate Windows and open up a shared xls/doc file preferably with embedded macros.

So how come your small business really chose Windows software?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

> So how come your small business really chose Windows software?

The nail was firmly hit on the head when the author described the resistance to learning a new piece of software. People as generally afraid of change or have no desire to learn new things (yes, I know that doesn't apply to you; that's why you're in the IT industry).

Branding/marketing plays to the weeknesses and frailties of the species and most are happy to go along for the ride.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Crossover office opens OfficeXP progs as fast in Linux as on native windows.Runs photoshop and a lot of other stuff. Try the new beta 6.0 for free (codeweavers.com). It rocks!

Anonymous coward

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There is another important issue: longevity of an Open Source application. People are scared thinking that they start to use a software and then suddenly the development and maintenance of that software stops.
So the logic is: if I pay for that software then the producer is forced to help me in using that application regardless if it stops the maintenance of the product or not.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

So the logic is: if I pay for that software then the producer is forced to help me in using that application regardless if it stops the maintenance of the product or not.

If maintenance on a product stops, it is End Of Life. That means no more support whatsoever, unless you pay for premium support packages that extend past the deadline. This only is the case when we speak of businesses.

When it comes to home users, support mostly means updates free of charge for a period of time and not much more.

Fear of the unknown and feeling sheltered by the idea of being "lemming" 57,394,765 using the same proprietary product makes people reluctant to switch.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Don't some free software vendors provide support if you pay an annual fee? ie you can download and use their software for free but if you need any assistance you can pay an annual support fee?

Might be a good thing to offer to make skeptics more secure about 'investing' in free software.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Perhaps all Free Software people should consider adopting the phrase "We will meet or beat any competitor's price on similar software!" Let people buy it if they want to.

Just a quick thought.

all the best,

drew

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=zotzbro&search=Search

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Why not just offer them StarOffice (http://www.sun.com/software/star/staroffice/index.jsp)? You get the same underlying OpenOffice code, along with the purchase, support, and license options your family member's company appears to want. Plus, it far cheaper than MS.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If said company uses Exchange, forget about it. They are ALWAYS going to be using Exchange. They are locked-in, they are happy.

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Chris Mostek's picture