RE: Why Tech-Writers Should Know About Open Source Technologies

Subject: RE: Why Tech-Writers Should Know About Open Source Technologies
From: "Nuckols, Kenneth M" <Kenneth -dot- Nuckols -at- mybrighthouse -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 13:58:37 -0400

Bruce argued...

> > But, open source tools do require a great learning curve for
> > installation, support, and administration. That's what I don't have
> > time for.
> How much time do you spend installing MS Office? How many times have
> contacted Microsoft technical support? For the type of tools that
> tech-writers are likely to need, you're likely to spend about the same
> amount of time on installation and support.
> As for administration, open source often requires less, not the least
> because you don't have to worry about licence compliance.
> Of course, you could find some open source applications that would
> support your comments. However, you're making sweeping generalities.
> > That doesn't mean I won't pick up skills on the side, but I don't
> > it as an absolute necessity.
> >
> It's not. My point was that it is going to impinge on your
> life in the near future, if it hasn't already. Unless you have very
> job security, it's a good idea to prepare now.

One of the things that is becoming apparent in the threads about open
source that have been flying around the list lately is that even among a
bunch of technology-savvy professionals like Technical Writers there is
still a very small level of knowledge about Open Source software in
general, and when it comes to an individual title the knowledge is even
more fragmented and isolated.

Now there are individuals, like Bruce, who probably sometimes feels like
some cyberspace reincarnation of John the Baptist--a voice crying in the
wilderness--that have extensive knowledge about many OS titles. Most of
the rest of us may have some knowledge about one or two OS packages, and
some are doubtless expert users of a small number of OS applications.

My personal belief is that within the next five to ten years one of two
things is going to happen.

1. As Bruce said in a post yesterday, corporate IT and Finance
departments are going to embrace OS and expand its implementation
radically. Cost would be a factor in this scenario, but security may be
a factor as well--with so much of the global computer infrastructure
operating on the Microsoft platform, 90% of the globe's computers and
companies have the same vulnerabilities to viruses, worms, and other
nasty "cyber-terrorist" attacks that can bring electronic communications
and the commerce that relies on it to a grinding halt.

2. Microsoft (or some other single-source vendor) is going to counter
the explosion of OS titles with much lower-cost centrally-located
applications that reduce the prices that companies have to pay for
software licensing and reduce the need for individual corporations to
buy and maintain large quantities of individual software. In short, they
could follow the model of the computer entertainment industry, which is
exploding with games that are hosted on the publisher's servers and
require users to purchase an interface application that connects them to
the server and creates the user account (which is paid on a monthly
fee). Sony right now is the 800-pound gorilla of this fast-growing
segment of the entertainment industry. The reason this model might
happen is the same reason everyone uses Microsoft now--standardization.
25 years ago, businesses wanted to know that the software they used in
their Houston office would work in the New York, Miami, and Los Angeles
offices as well, and that vendors in Chicago and Atlanta could send a
disk that would work everywhere. It could be that the next version of MS
office is not a $600 suite of software but simply a $50 client license
(with a $10 / month subscription fee) that runs off of Microsoft-owned
servers located in Redmond or one of a couple-dozen satellite locations
around the country and continually updates in the background so that the
user never has to go buy another version of Office--just keep paying the
subscription fee and you'll always have the latest and greatest as soon
as you log in for each session.

I guess the real key is whether "security" or "standardization" is the
hot button that drives corporate technology purchases in the next few
years. If a concern about standardization continues to be the prime
motivator as it has been for the last 20 - 25 years, then I see OS
applications continuing to be little more than an interesting subset of
industry software. Good to know? Absolutely. Useful and powerful?
Certainly. Used by small companies and start-ups? You betcha. But
probably not the first choice of Fortune 500 corporations that want to
be absolutely certain every employee in every office can share essential
information as rapidly and easily as possible.

If, on the other hand, clever hackers and cyber-terrorists continue
launching enough attacks with worms, viruses, and other nasty
destructive programs that Fortune 500 IT departments fear too much
reliance on Microsoft as a single-source vendor, then the OS market
could explode, and where there are a few OS replacements for Word now
there might be 200 viable alternatives in a few years. The growth and
surge of XML and web-based applications makes it less important for
everyone to be using the same code building tools, since the programming
language and presentation media is becoming the standard element. If I'm
browsing the web, it makes little difference for 99% of the sites I
visit whether my computer's OS is a Mac, Windows, or Linux, just as with
a PC it makes little or no difference whether I'm using a Pentium or an
Athlon processor for 99% of the applications that I run. As more and
more applications are written and more and more business is conducted on
corporate intranets and the Internet, it will make less difference what
application programmers use to write the software.

I'm not sure I'm ready to abandon all the software I've been using and
run off after Bruce and the other apostles of OS applications just yet,
but I'm becoming more and more convinced it's probably a good idea to
learn more about the more popular OS applications "just in case..."

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