Keynote: Damian Conway on Geeks and Suits

I’d never heard of Conway before, but he’s a famous PERL guy and author. It was clear from his title this presentation was “old:” Geek Eye for the Suit Guy. Further, based on its “slickness,” he does it regularly.

That said, his one hour talk, focussed on getting us “geeks” up to speed on how to convince the “suits” about open source using and emotional/rational/money argument was very funny. It may have been too funny such that the audience wasn’t ready to question anything in it. First he outlined how businesses work (I paraphrase without adult terms):

Businesses exploit something/someone (which doesn’t know its value), raise the price and resell it for more.

The bulk of the talk, the part everyone seemed to be writing down (I was asked by several people to share my notes) for later were the ten questions/challenges geeks need to answer for suits once they consider open source as a viable option. This is a quick summary:

(1) But SCO owns UNIX?
(A) No, that whole thing was a business play by SCO to raise the price before management dumpted the stock. Oh, and if they acutally did (the court said they didn’t recently) the open source community would code around it.

(2) OS has a higher total cost of ownership?
(A) Yes, if you read studies funded by proprietary vendors, otherwise, it does not.

(3) Proprietary software is easier to use.
(A) Yes, but only marginally and most of that is from familiarity.

(4) What about compatibility/interoperability?
(A) Actually typically OS supports more standards and are typically better than even previous versions of proprietary software on the same document.

(5) What about security?
(A) OS tends to win here because it has genetic diversity. (How many versions of UNIX are there?)

(6) What about support?
(A) OS options parallel proprietary, PLUS you can have folks in house!

(7) But what if the product goes away?
(A) There’s no single supplier, so less likely than proprietary vendors. OS is not cost driven and proprietary folks end products all the time.

(8) Who will we sue if something goes wrong?
(A) Just like proprietary - no one. Proprietaries are too big to sue (unless you have tons of money) and with OS, there’s no one to sue!

(9) How will OS improve customer experience?
(A) OS use will drop company prices, thus costomer prices, scale cheaply, etc.

(10) How will OS improve the company bottom line?
(A) All sorts of things will be cheaper: licensing, licensing management costs, risk, insurance, hardware, security, etc.

Now Conway was clear that you had to have numbers and lots of examples to document these responses. He also noted you need to “talk like they listen.” One note from me: this is all well and good but without details on responses in open source geospatial software (his were all from other aspects of open source). The other concern I had in this clearly geek centered and thus suit “making fun of” session was that the suit was portrayed as “enemy” and not partner. Geeks need suits and suits need geeks. That was not emphasized enough for me.

Published Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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