As a widely published author, I’m plugged into a number of author networks and always enjoy talking with authors of interesting books to learn more about what they write about and how they produce their material. Recently, I bumped into Maria Winslow and was intriguied by her new book, The Practical Manager’s Guide to Open Source. What’s so interesting about this book is that the focus is to explore how Linux and open source software lets you switch from an expensive Microsoft Windows based environment to a considerably less expensive Linux platform, a topic that I’m also quite interested in exploring.
Anyway, Maria and I went back and forth via email to produce the Q&A included herein. Do check out her book and if you have your own views on Windows versus Linux, please feel free to add your two cents here too!
Maria, what was your motivation for writing this book?
I advise mid-sized organizations on how to assess their IT environments to discover those areas where they can take best advantage of open source software. During the course of this work, I’ve talked with a lot of IT directors and technical managers, and I’ve found that while most believe that open source can save them money, they don’t really have a good idea of how much. And they are generally unaware of the rich selection of open source applications – not necessarily just for Linux – that are production-ready and well-supported. This book grew out of that experience, and was an effort to create a resource for companies working to adopt a practical open source strategy.
Your emphasis throughout the book is on taking a practical approach. Can
you talk a little more about this?
There is a lot of misleading information out there about open source software. The Yankee Group did a survey last year in which they asked this question, “If you were to migrate your entire environment to Linux, would it cost you money?”. The answer will obviously be yes in most cases, but it’s a useless question. The truth is that most organizations are going to find that a mix of operating systems makes more sense. Anything you might consider basic computing infrastructure – file servers, DNS servers, web proxies, etc – can be a good choice for a migration because since they are common across industries, you’re more likely to find stable, supported open source options.
But you are more likely to stay with the status quo for functions that are specific to your industry, since a smaller market makes it less likely that an open source project has developed. At the time I started writing this book, there was not a lot of information out there to help people sort this out. IT directors are naturally a practical group, and they are seeking practical advice.
So this is a book for managers, then?
Actually, I wrote it with the concerns of technical managers in mind, but I’ve found that it can be a help to the technical people who are trying to convice management to adopt more open source. I talk with a lot of people in Linux user groups around the country, and many of them would prefer to use more Linux at work. But they’re having trouble convincing their bosses. I recommend preparing a simple cost-savings analysis for their migration projects to help make their case. There is nothing like proof of savings to get management’s attention.
But yes, this book was written for managers. I step through how to take an assessment of their IT environment to look for ways to use open source software, and how to evaluate the ROI of those potential migrations. I include listings of recommended software based on hours of interviews and research – something most managers don’t have time to do. And I included eleven case studies to highlight how some of the recommended software is being used in production environments.
Why have you put such a focus on “return on investment”?
One thing I’ve discovered as a consultant is that many people think that Linux will be cheaper for them, but they aren’t sure exactly how to go about quantifying that to upper management. Bloor Research did a study a while back finding that while most organizations track IT expenditures, very few track the ROI of those expenditures. As a result, technology executives tend not to be practiced in any method. So I wanted to provide a simple methodology for quantifying what open source might mean to an organization in terms of the budget. I focus on the factors that are easily measured, like licensing fees, and keep it simple but useful. The book steps through spreadsheets that you can download and fill in to save time calculating your ROI. The formulas are already in there.
What was your selection process for the software you recommended?
I researched the most commonly used software, and only selected software that I found to be widely deployed in production settings. Commercial support is important, too, so I list where to find it for each project. I also interviewed people responsible for the code, and found out histories and future plans. I actually dropped a project from the book when I discovered that even though it was widely deployed, development had stopped, so I knew it would be a dead end. Listings are divided into three categories – server-side software, client-side software, and application development tools. It’s not all open source, but a practical mix of open source and proprietary that represents a good value for the typical IT environment.
Great stuff, thanks for sharing with us, Maria!
The Practical Manager’s Guide to Open Source by Maria Winslow