2010-03-09

Paths of and to Openness

I was talking with an analyst/consultant based in the Middle East about the state of OpenOffice.org in the region. He wanted to know the usual.... and the usual is that which is really hard to supply. Users are under no obligation to tell us of what they are doing, and this is also true of those providing support and services, such as ArabDev, which is based in Egypt. Developer communities, however, do let us in on their work, and outside of individuals working on localization, I don't think there are any developer groups or companies in the region. I wish there were. But it takes a lot of time and money to do core work on OOo. Which is all the more reason to do extensions.

In talking to the analyst, it occurred to me that a really rather cool study would be to chart the how (and to a degree why) public and private enterprises adopt and migrate to applications such as OpenOffice.org. The narratives to such a migration are many, and for public narratives, as well as for a lot private ones, we know that they want to save money and gain flexibility: Why spend a lot of money on something that limits your ability to engage in the future? Okay, but *how* did the decision makers (if any) come to this understanding in the first place? That is the interesting question.

I guess I've known answers: that one path is to work from the ground up. This is a classic Linux/Foss narrative: that we persuade the actual user geeks who actually work with and are informed of the software gamut, and these then persuade their managers, unto the CXO who decides. We know this path and help those in the narrative of persuasion by supplying facts, arguments, presence.

The other path that I pursue is the opposite: the top down approach, where I seek to persuade the most powerful person of the virtues of OOo. He or she can be the CXO or even above. What counts is selling the executive on the things that appeal most, such as saving money, flexibility (no vendor lock-in) or whatever, while at the same time, underscoring that a migration to open source (or its proprietary versions) is not likely to erode his or job, but rather grant more power and security, as the executive is no longer dependent upon any single vendor. This method works fairly well in a lot of regions where the top echelon is regarded most highly and the bottom not at all.

But there are other paths, and it is never obvious which, exactly, is the right one to follow. Each region, each cultural pocket determines its own path. What I do in Canada, where I have been trying to get the country, as well as the provinces, to adopt OOo, will differ dramatically from what I do in India, say, or in the China or elsewhere. Power may be the same but its narratives always differ.

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