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 (CIO) Peter Quinn.

Quinn, who played a key role in rolling out 50,000 open-source
desktops in his home state of Massachusetts in the eastern United
States, said “appearance matters” when trying to convince business
decision makers of the merits of open-source software.

He pointed to the “sandal and ponytail set” as detracting from
the business-ready appearance of open-source technology and
blamed the developers for the inertia for business Linux
adoption.

“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, it was 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.

In Australia to speak at the inaugural LinuxWorld Conference
and 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
[US] 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 US.

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 greatly.

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,” said
Quinn.

“[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 terms.”

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

(Redmond this month joined a committee that has a key role in
the ratification of the OpenDocument format
as an international
standard, although observers are speculating as to the reasons 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 unauthorised 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.