Blog: Elizabeth Ziph

Elizabeth Ziph is the co-founder of The Linux Box Corporation in downtown Ann Arbor, has over 30 years of experience in the IT industry and sits on the Detroit Chamber of Commerce Technology Advisory Panel. She will be writing about open source software, the freedom it gives its users and its potential impact on the future of computing.

Post No 2: Evangelism & Choice

When companies promote products (and software) it's called "Marketing."

When individuals or organizations promote things like open source software, it's called "Evangelism."  
Historically, evangelism has the connotation of religion, politics, or environmentalism. Its purpose is to convert someone to a new belief system.  
In fact, open source software does warrant some evangelism:  It gives the users freedom to own the software as opposed to having only a limited right to use it. It enables customization of software so that it will do exactly what they need it to do. It promotes the contribution of code,  sharing and cooperation. It builds communities of users and developers.  
In the beginning (and certainly when the Linux Box started), Linux and other open source projects were relatively unknown. There was no budget for promotion so evangelism had to do. One  example of such evangelism is an essay by Eric Raymond called "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" that makes a case for the open source model. That essay and other efforts give open source software positive exposure and explain its ideals and benefits. 

People who choose to use open source software appreciate these ideals, but ideals alone wouldn't have convinced them to use open source. Practical considerations do. Ultimately, people vote their pocketbook, not their ideals. The ideal of open source software wouldn't go far in businesses if the results it provides didn't stack up.  

Our experience has been that our customers care about the ability to customize software. They like not worrying about being pushed to switch software because one vendor had been acquired by another. They like having a vendor without an agenda - an objective entity that does not have a stake in one particular product to cloud the decision making process. It is important to them that, with their approval, The Linux Box could contribute the customizations back to the open source community. It gives them further vendor independence and saves them the cost of re-implementing their changes with every upgrade. 

Over the last ten years, open source has become broadly accepted and respected. It has been promoted by large, technology vendors like IBM, Sun, HP, and Google.  This has made our customers feel even better about the open source choices they made. Often, they became promoters themselves. And that kind of marketing is priceless.