'Sandal and ponytail set' cramping Linux adoption?

Yes, says former Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn. To be taken seriously, open-source community needs to dress the part.

Steven Deare
3 min read
The lax dress code of the open-source community is one of the reasons behind the software's slow uptake in commercial environments, says former Massachusetts Chief Information Officer Peter Quinn.

Quinn, who played a key role in the Bay State government's decision to mandate the use of OpenDocument-based products, said appearance matters when trying to convince decision makers of the merits of open-source software.

Peter Quinn Peter Quinn

He pointed to the "sandal and ponytail set" as detracting from the business-ready appearance of open-source technology and blamed developers for sluggish adoption of Linux among businesses and governments.

"Open source has an unprofessional appearance, and the community needs to be more business-savvy in order to start to make inroads in areas traditionally dominated by commercial software vendors. (Having) a face on a project or agenda makes it attractive for politicians (to consider open source)."

He went on to suggest that while the open-source community was slowly beginning to come to terms with the need to dress for success, doing so is a "huge education process."

In terms of public-sector implementation, Quinn said political considerations in the United States had prevented many technology workers from going public about their support for open-source software solutions and projects being undertaken across government entities.

In Australia to speak at the inaugural LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Sydney this week, Quinn told journalists, "I can't mention (the people by name), because as soon as you mention them, they get their heads taken off."

"I think there's something going on in every agency in every (U.S) state," he said. "Whether the CIO knows it or not, that's a different thing. I think almost everybody, they say, 'It's not happening at my shop, I promise you,' but when you (go) to their shop, it's happening. So I think it's happening everywhere, but there's varying degrees."

The culture of fear was exacerbated by the fact this was an election year in the U.S., he said.

Quinn, who faced plenty of scrutiny over his support of the OpenDocument standards-based office document format, said proponents of open source in government faced formidable opposition from vested interests if they went public.

"When you think about the lobbying power and the cash that's available for opponents of open source and opponents of OpenDocument, there is a significant amount of money and resource that people can and will bring to bear," he said.

However, fear of reprisal was not the only reason why open-source software had not been accepted more widely, he said. Quinn also blamed the leaders of technology departments for not communicating the benefits of open-source software to their businesses effectively.

"I blame the IT community, I blame the IT leadership, over and over and over again, about their inability to articulate correctly the business opportunity that we've got here," Quinn said.

"(I blame them) for not understanding what it is that they do, for spending too much time talking and thinking in technology terms, and not thinking in terms of business," he said.

Massachusetts' adoption of the OpenDocument format was seen as a watershed decision by open-source evangelists. The decision, made to ensure that archived documents would be interoperable between systems over many years, had effectively shut out Microsoft, which did not support OpenDocument.

(Microsoft this month joined a committee that has a key role in the ratification of the OpenDocument format as an international standard, though observers are speculating why.)

Microsoft's decision not to support the format had been a "strategic mistake," according to Quinn, who had encouraged OpenDocument advocates around the world to band together.

Quinn left his Massachusetts CIO post in January, after he was investigated for unauthorized trips to conferences. He was subsequently cleared.

"You can only stand in the public arena for so long and have mud thrown at you," he said.

Matthew Overington and Steven Deare reported for ZDNet Australia in Sydney.