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Book Review: A Practical Reference for the Open Source Advocate

Getting Down to Business

  • March 24, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

One of the more mundane tasks involved in the promotion of open source software in the business world is the systematic introduction of the whole idea to decision-making individuals. In other words, explaining the coolness of open source to your boss.

Of course, using terms like "cool," "l33t," and "free as in beer" may connect to your boss on an emotional level, it may not make his or her willing to open the company checkbook. To do that, you are going to need reasoned, focused arguments that seek to persuade on a logical level. Regardless of your skill with such arguments, it never hurts to have a source to refer to so that your discussion is more organized.

One such source should be The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, by Maria Winslow. This book's goal is to accomplish exactly what many of us would like to do--quickly get the value of open source across to the managers and executives of the world. And in 226 pages, it pretty much does what it sets out to do.

Winslow, who self-published the book through the Lulu imprint, takes a pretty straightforward approach to making the case for open source. As Program Manger for Mandrakesoft's new US Partner Program, and an experienced consultant in open-source migrations, Winslow brings her skillset and knowledge right to the reader in this book.

In the first section of the book, she takes the time to explain about the very concept of open source, paying particular attention to the flagship product, Linux. She then uses established case studies to highlight real world advantages and savings of deploying to open source. While the examples are diverse and strong, I found myself wanting for just a bit more detail. Still, based on the brevity of the book, I can understand why the author did not care to spend too much time on these case studies.

The book then moves on to discuss migration strategies and cost analyses for open source deployment. The plans and models Winslow describes are right out of business school, so there are no surprises. But when put in the context of how to deploy open source technologies, and how much money you can save with open source, the details become much more compelling.

The second section of the book moves away from the argument mode and becomes more of a reference, as Winslow describes distributions, servers-side, and desktop applications in the open source world. It even reviews the available open source development languages.

While this may seem rather dull to those of us familiar with open source, I think this section of the book is extremely useful, because it lays out in great detail the various applications that are available. Right away, any arguments that start with "Yes, but I need..." can usually be dispelled by the contents of this section.

In the last section of the book, Winslow stays in the reference mode a bit longer and reviews current information sources about open source and Linux. Then she steps into the argument mode once more and paints a strong picture of how she believes the overall deployment of open source will eventually happen.

This is, as the title suggests, a very practical book. Actually, it's pretty pragmatic and very streamlined. This is not a book that wastes a lot of words getting its points across. There is some lack of detail in certain areas, but not enough to detract from the points the book is making. Much of terseness is very likely due to the self-publishing--such books tend to be a no-frills type of publication. Still, Winslow has put together a solid reference work that any manager can quickly read to discover how open source can be used in an organization.

Can this book alone convince a manager or CxO to migrate to open source? Perhaps, though like any tool, it is probably best used in conjunction with other arguments, other persuasions. But this is a good tool to add to the arsenal, and definitely one that you can use to start the open source migration conversation in your office.

The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source
Maria Winslow
Open Source Migrations, 2004
ISBN 1-4116-1146-2
US$35.00
http://windows-linux.com/practicalOpenSource/

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