I'm actually beginning to picture a day when users start to ask their IT departments why they can't run Ubuntu Linux at work, the way they do at home.
Now that Dell and Lenovo are running the distribution on some of its machines, and Novell is promoting a desktop version of Suse, the stage is set for a serious change in expectations. It was one thing when companies were using Linux quietly, on back-end systems like Web servers to cut costs or improve scalability. This week's LinuxWorld Expo show in San Francisco has demonstrated that open source is moving much closer to the front end than ever before, and with that begins another quiet shift, which will probably happen among departmental lines.
It would not make sense, in most cases, for one division of a company (let's say finance) to be running in a different OS environment than their colleagues in marketing or legal. Unless, of course, those users demand applications which work better in a particular environment, or on a particular platform. Even in enterprises today, Linux has introduced further heterogeneity into data centers that were already a motley crew of Windows, Unix and Solaris. In some cases, IT managers know, Linux is the smarter choice. In others it's not. Strategy around technology will become more complicated as business unit owners become more aware of the choices, and start giving their own two cents worth about what should be deployed.
If that sounds far-fetched, imagine a typical enterprise scenario. The HR department finally wants to ditch PeopleSoft, or some god-awful legacy system that's been screwing up everyone's vacation records for the past 10 years. If the HR manager is at all attuned to how organizations perform, he or she will know that replacing such a system is a rare event, and represents a small window of opportunity to get the kind of long-term functionality they require. So instead of migrating to Oracle, SAP or Microsoft's fledgling HR product, they do a bit of their own research and ask for Cognizo or OpenHRIS, which are both open source tools. The HR manager might not care about the underlying platform -- it could just be a case of richer features. But the IT department will still have to deal with any interoperability issues with the underlying platform.
These emerging open source advocates won't necessarily be loyal to Linux, nor will they veto traditional, proprietary products. It's just that when you let someone look under the hood and make changes as necessary, you empower people to chart their own course. This could mean LinuxWorld Expo 2018 becomes as important a destination for the VPs of operations and administration as it is for CIOs today. In some cases it will lead to greater conflict. In others, hopefully, more cooperation between business and IT.
Linux gained a large following in part because it created a real community out of developers who discussed features, functions and fixes at a level of granularity that wasn't possible with proprietary software. As open source continues to mature we may start to see similar kinds of communities emerge among lines of business that have their own opinions about the platforms and applications they will rely upon to do their jobs. Blogs and other social networking tools will facilitate, and amplify, those conversations. The sooner IT departments start listening in the better, because the day could come when the choices for these systems will not be theirs alone anymore.