False Security In Familiarity
What is the single most difficult thing about letting go of a trusted software application to finalize the switch to a new one? Familiarity is a key component here: the sense of knowing the software backwards and forwards that makes the software so comfortable to the end user.
This perceived familiarity breeds a false sense of security that is very difficult to overcome. Even if the open source alternative is free of vendor lock-in, costs nothing and requires no need for extra support whatsoever, a feeling of familiarity will win nearly every time.
So how do we expect unwitting enterprise IT staff and end users to suddenly take a "risk" based on blind faith and well intentioned promises that the change of application(s) will not present show-stopping issues down the road?
We can't. Because of this fear, proprietary vendors can lock-in customers by the bushel even if their product does the same thing as the free alternative.
Whether we consider this state of mind rational or just silly is beside the point. It's a fact of life that prevents many companies from even entertaining the idea of running tests to see if a cheaper open source alternative might be better for their bottom line.
The Proprietary Ice Begins To Thaw
Putting aside the doom and gloom of my insights above, I have seen a light at the end of the proprietary tunnel in recent months.
Recently at Sears, I noticed a familiar appearance to the terminal used by the person helping me with my eyeglasses. Then when the representative went to load a new page, I discovered instantly that this was Linux running the GNOME desktop.
Haven't any idea which distro was in use, but the software was network-based and was clearly designed specially for Sears Optical Centers. This means that not only was Sears likely embracing open source, they were also utilizing Linux as well. And the network based application in use was labeled "Eyenet," for those who are interested.
Recently Norway's own broadcasting company (NRK) went to open standards by choosing ODF file formats over that of those provided by Microsoft's Office products. This is not really that groundbreaking considering how much other parts of the world opt to embrace open standards while here in the U.S. we cling to what's easiest. But it did serve as a reminder that changes are coming in what users want from their software.
Clearly, there is significant interest in open source software as a potential cost saving, among other advantages. The key is making sure that legacy headaches among issues of software trust and familiarity. It's an unfortunate mindset that is not only a problem in the corporate world, but in everyday homes as well.
Some of you may point out how far desktop Linux and Open Source efforts as a whole have come along. I in turn will point you back to human nature. Some will adapt happily while many others simply refuse.