I enjoy reading Dilbert once in a while. Who doesn’t? The genius of Dilbert creator Scott Adams is that he has a knack for capturing subjects that resonate with the experiences of most all of us who have worked in or with corporate America. I had a chuckle from the Dilbert cartoon below (forwarded to me by a friend who received it as part of today’s Daily Dilbert email from the official Dilbert web site). If you have been involved in assessing whether to use open source software within an organization (particularly at the behest of management), this cartoon likely strikes a humorous chord with you as well.
While the term “open source” never took on the aura of a dot com era buzz word, I have seen plenty of instances where the adoption and use of open source (or even just the allure of associating a company with being “open source”) has been looked upon as far too much of a panacea (and a free one at that). The fact of the matter is, however, that while there is often little actual cost of acquiring open source software, the use and implementation of open source does have a cost. Likewise, while it is relatively easy to adopt the term “open source” into a corporate marketing and PR plan, there is a cost involved with actually leveraging open source in your business model (or actually becoming an “open source” company).
On the legal side, these costs involve dealing with license and intellectual property management and compliance issues. The good news is that not unlike proprietary software, these issues and their associated costs are increasingly quantifiable and manageable. However, also not unlike proprietary software, these issues and costs tend to increase in magnitude if not recognized and dealt with up front and in real time. Nonetheless, while many of the “trade publications” actually do a decent job of giving equal time to both the acquisition and compliance costs of open source software, it always seems to be the “free” (as in “free beer”) part of open source software that garners the most attention – often leading to open source compliance being done in hindsight only well after the choice to use and implement open source software has been made (and at far greater cost).
I suppose part of the genius of Dilbert is that it captures this truth. If you find yourself in the situation of dealing with a decision to use or implement open source software, just don’t let this be your truth as well. ;-)