Open Source is the New Microsoft


When I was starting out in the web industry (back before the turn of century), open source options were available but were often ruled out as risky business investments. At the time, they were relatively feature poor (compared to enterprise solutions) and a bet on the wrong technology could potentially cost someone their job. It was around this time that I heard the phrase "no one gets fired for choosing Microsoft".

This insight was a fairly profound one, as it meant two things:

  1. Open source was perceived as risky, while Microsoft (and enterprise) was safe.
  2. The more innovative solution generally loses out to the safe solution.

These days a lot has changed in the open source world. Open source solutions like Drupal are more feature rich, more flexible and more extensible than many of the entrenched "enterprise" solutions. And they are significantly less costly, because of the lack of licensing fees, which can reach the six or seven figure mark for many applications.

Enterprise solutions have become the victims of their own success and their brand promise. They were selected because they were safe, and because safety is core offering, they have been unable to innovate. In many cases, the enterprise software is literally the same today as it was 10 years ago, leaving them 10 years behind in innovation, available features and user experience.

These days, the value proposition for companies have changed. License-free cost expectations has permeated every tier of the modern business, from the content creators to the CEO and everyone in between. Now, when a CFO looks at their cashflow and sees a large licensing fee they ask themselves "what is the return we are getting on this investment? Is there a more cost-effective alternative?"

Today, the safe solution has become the one that was allowed to innovate and grow over the past decade. Open source is the new Microsoft, and so it's time to rewrite the phrase. In today's world, no one gets fired for choosing open source.

The original quote is actually "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." This was from the mainframe era, from the 1960s to the 1990s, before the PC revolution got going. Sure, a company could save a lot of money buying a computer from Burroughs, Univac or CDC, or later on, from DEC or Data General. But no one would accuse you of taking a risk with a bunch of the company's money (and the IBM sales people would really wine you and dine you).

Too true. :-)

I'm sure there have been other stand-bys, especially during eras where a single company controlled vast swaths of a market. The interesting thing with the newer open source alternatives is that there is no single company responsible for their success. You can still find enterprise support models, but by and large the bulk of the actual software development is small unfunded (or funded) private party development.

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About the Author

Joaquin Lippincott, CEO

Joaquin is a modern technology veteran. Throughout his career he has built successful digital strategies with a wide assortment of transformative technologies and platforms, helping clients identify a clear path for success. Over the years he has worked with industry leaders such as DC Comics, the Emmys, Intel, Technicolor, Verizon Wireless, Habitat for Humanity, Limewire, the Linux Foundation, Sony Pictures Television, Mercy Corps, and Cisco as well as numerous small businesses, advertising agencies and internet start ups. With over 14 years of experience in his field he is still as passionate about technology as ever. Joaquin is a graduate from UCLA with a degree in design and has also served on the AIGA Portland chapter board as President. Twitter: @joaquinlippinco