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How to Keep Your Options Open

An issue worthy of serious consideration

Some organizations will find that they are able to make wide use of open source software, while others will find only limited suitable migration candidates. Some of the discrepancy will be due to differences across industries. Industries that tend to make conservative technology decisions, for example, are likely to have more legacy systems that are difficult to migrate. But even within the same industries, technical managers will find a range of potential migration scenarios. The differences in experience will depend on the platform-neutrality of the applications in use.

Those organizations that have made heavy use of Web-based technologies, and kept it platform-neutral, will have the most migration opportunities now. When the Web browser began to replace the operating system as a computing platform, some technical managers understood that this was the wave of the future. They insisted on browser-based applications wherever practical, both from vendors and internal development staff. If you are one of these managers, then your vision will pay off when you look for ways to migrate to Linux, especially on the desktop.

But it's not too late to keep your options open for the future. You can maintain your future flexibility by making it a policy that all new applications be platform neutral and employ open standards whenever possible. You have complete control over this for applications developed by your internal staff, of course. But what if you only have Visual Basic programmers on staff? They will cost you too much lost opportunity in the long run, and should be either retrained or replaced. By continuing to develop exclusively for Windows, you will lock your organization out of significant potential savings for years to come. The expenses you incur now by adjusting your staff skill set will keep you from writing more applications that will restrict your options in the future.

Making platform neutrality and open standards a requirement for third-party applications is also becoming more and more feasible, especially as Linux spreads. Not all vendors are ready for this, of course, but the discussion should be a part of all future purchases. Make it clear that you want more flexibility in future releases. Vendors will begin to comply when they get enough pressure from their customer base.

As you examine your computing environment for ways to bring in Linux, it's important to examine the life cycles of your platform-specific applications. Whether or not you are able to port these to platform neutral solutions over the next few years will affect the extent of possible Linux use. Decisions made now will still be with you after 10 years, so it's an issue worthy of serious consideration.

Excerpted from The Manager's Guide to Open Source, Manning Publications, August 2004.

More Stories By Maria Winslow

Maria Winslow is the author of The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, available at http://www.lulu.com/practicalGuide and can be contacted at [email protected]

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