Practical advocacy in a complex world

Practical advocacy in a complex world

We’ve come a long way in the promotion of open source software. Gone are the days of trying to convince IT directors that Linux is a viable operating system. Most organizations are running Linux on a server somewhere today, and it’s generally considered mainstream for a host of uses.

Then our attention turned to open source databases and middleware. Most people would agree that Oracle is feeling the pressure from MySQL and PostgreSQL. And the open source phenomenon has spawned a host of new middleware choices, beyond even the obvious JBoss. Advocacy efforts in this area are paying off now.

But before we start yelling “Linux desktops for the masses!”, let’s stop and consider where we are on the advocacy path. The truth is that once we get past the initial hurdles of open source adoption and then look more closely at the situation, we see that the world is complicated. Our advocacy has to match the reality of typical IT environments, or we become irrelevant. (I might argue that some of us already have, but that’s for another post.)

What, as open source advocates, should we be concerned with as open source software crosses into the mainstream? Here are six areas that need some focus.

1. Promote open source applications

All the world, it seems, knows about Linux. What they’re probably less familiar with is all the open source applications that are mature enough to be considered for production use. It’s time to make IT directors aware of solutions like SugarCRM, Asterix, and more. Case studies, by the way, are a great way to introduce these.

2. Recommend realistic mixed environments

It’s not helpful to have an attitude that you have to go all open source or nothing. If you say that to an IT director, your advocacy recommendations won’t be taken seriously. The same goes for arguments that border on the philosophical benefits of free software to society. Save those discussions for your in-the-know buddies, but take a practical, realistic approach in your advocacy efforts. Real IT environments are complicated, so take into account what open source will work well now, and leave the rest alone.

3. Select carefully the projects you recommend

Don’t tell an IT director that there are over 100,000 open source projects on Sourceforge. It’s overwhelming, and actually not that useful. Most of those are in an early stage of development, and it’s your job as an advocate to watch for the ones that are ready for mainstream use. Then, and only then, do you make the recommendation. Installing beta software that causes problems in a production setting is a surefire way to generate a backlash against open source. Instead, experiment with software under the radar.

4. Have an answer to the Microsoft FUD

I’m sure you’ve noticed the Microsoft “Get the Facts” ads blanketing the world right now. Wow, do they ever have an advertising budget! Imagine if you don’t know much about open source, but you see those ads everywhere. Would that make you skeptical? It’s what Microsoft is counting on. So you need to have an answer. Give your boss this article debunking the studies referenced in the ad campaign.

5. Understand the legal issues

I hear people mix up the facts about the GPL all the time, and it’s not helping our advocacy. What happens if a developer copies open source code into a closed software project? What happens if there is a violation of an open source license? How does dual licensing really work? What is the relationship between trademark and the GPL? I followed a legal cat fight about a year ago, and was amazed at the lack of understanding of the legal issues by the developers. I keep meaning to write an article about this, but in the meantime, check out these two excellent articles by Heather Meeker, an IP lawyer and open source legal authority.

6. Be nice

Finally, try to open up your elite Linux clan to other system administrators. Show some respect for people with mostly Windows background who are willing to delve into Linux. If you’re known as the nice, helpful guy in addition to the guru, you’ll find that people are more willing to listen to your advice.


Author information

Maria Winslow's picture


As an Open Source Practice Leader with Virtuas, Winslow assists clients in understanding the technical and budgetary impact free software will have on their computing environments. Her recent book, “The Practical Manager’s Guide to Open Source”, guides IT directors and system administrators through the process of finding practical uses for free software that will integrate seamlessly into existing infrastructures, as well as understanding the costs and savings. She is a frequent speaker and author on the topic of free software. She can be reached via the Practical Open Source website.