Confidence factor blocks local open source ambitions

Open source software still faces a perception barrier in the enterprise as big organizations like to deal with other big organizations, says New Zealand IT identity Perce Harpham.

Enterprises are nervous of services companies with a loose hold over their key expert personnel and intellectual property.

Harpham was among the sceptics at a Computer Society meeting held in Wellington, who questioned the optimistic picture of open source development presented by Catalyst IT director Don Christie -- who says open source is both satisfying for the developers and commercially viable for companies and their clients.

If you deal in open-source code your staff can move away and set up in opposition, using the code they developed under your roof, Harpham says.

"That's why most companies copyright the software and set it up so they can sell the same thing multiple times."

Profit is more secure that way, he says.

"I've not seen a lot of success in New Zealand using that proprietary model," Christie says in reply. He cites the example of Wellington's Silverstripe, which made little headway with its collection of web development tools until it went open source. That put them in touch with a whole community of contacts who could take the tools and information about them to an international market.

"Now they're providing the software for the US Democratic convention," says Christie.

Another member of the audience, with experience in development for government departments suggested that when engaging with a small developer a weighting had to be made for the possibility of the provider collapsing.

This is false thinking, Christie says.

"You're not just dealing with one company; it's a whole community." The chances of getting continued support are greater, he argues, than with the product of a proprietary developer who goes out of business.

Not surprisingly, the subject of the alleged shortage of ICT personnel in New Zealand arose. Last month, Christie, from the floor of a meeting addressed by government CIO Laurence Millar, argued local companies were not being given a fair go. He says Millar is trying to make government more agile -- and actually suggesting that code be reused more between one agency and another.

"I appreciate government's analysis of the use of open source and the release of the government portal code under a GPL licence." But if Millar wants more government agility, he should push agencies further in the direction of open source rather than commit to rigid contract terms with large proprietary companies, Christie says.

Having to spend most of the client's fee on software licences was one factor that turned Catalyst away from the proprietary world, he says.

There are comparatively few multi-million dollar projects, he says. "Typically it's a $50,000 to $100,000 job, which can easily be managed by a five-person team."

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