How Linux helps GoPromotional stay at the top of their game
GoPromotional is one of the fastest growing promotional gift distributors in the United Kingdom. In some respects, I suppose you could say we are rebels within our industry. Whereas most of our competitors are using proprietary off-the-shelf software, we've forged ahead and built a successful small business using Linux and Open Source Software almost exclusively.
Open Source vs. Traditional, Proprietary Enterprise Software
Open Source or traditional enterprise software? This was the primary question we had to ask ourselves when starting out. The question is not as clear cut as it once was. The stodgy software companies of the past no longer hold the sway they used to. Linux and Open Source software have made huge strides into the enterprise within the last few years and even many of the so-called “traditional enterprise” software companies are now embracing the notion of open source in some form or other. Nevertheless, there are still a few proprietary hold outs which, by and large, dominate the small business world. However, we've taken a slightly different path. What follows are the key reasons we've selected Linux and Open Source Software, and how these technologies benefit GoPromotional.
From day one, our overriding goal at GoPromotional has been “agility.” Not just agility in the day to day operations of the business, but agility in being able to implement new technologies on the fly. Being ahead of the curve is everything in this business. Believe it or not, the promotional gifts market is a highly competitive industry and your competition will literally eat your lunch if you're not on top of your game. Therefore, having the best, most robust tools at your disposal is critical to success. Linux and Open Source software not only provide us this agility but give us an edge over our competitors that are using proprietary software. With Linux we have:
- A time-tested, posix compliant operating system - A highly reliable, enterprise class operating system - An infinitely scalable, high-performance platform - Best of class development tools - Freedom, both in terms of price and in terms of “liberty” - A vast and knowledgeable community
Breaking the Shackles of Vendor Lock-in
Vendor Lock-in can be a huge obstacle for an organization trying to streamline their business. Being locked in to one vendor can create massive headaches such as converting data to other formats, upgrading existing software, and a whole slew of other problems. By using OSS and sticking to industry wide standards, we're immune to these issues. We are not subjugated to the whims and motivations of a large monolithic corporation, such as Microsoft, and are able to implement new technologies at will. Conversely, most of our competitors move at a snails pace in terms of technology, living in constant fear that the “next big thing” out of Redmond will break their existing business processes. I expect this is the same for most enterprises, however it is virtually a non-issue for us. We are unbeholden to any outside vendor.
The fact is that there are very few hidden “gotchas” with Open Source. If something doesn't work well, or can't address a particular need, it's out there in the open for the world to see. It's almost as if the OSS ecosystem is set up in such a way that only the cream of the crop rises to the top. There's no marketing double speak, and no pressure from vendors trying to sell us something we don't really need. We can base our decisions on the merits of the software alone rather than being locked in to a particular vendor.
Of course, there are always trade-offs. It's true that you sometimes have to sacrifice “official support” when using Open Source. Things do go wrong and you won't always have someone there to hold your hand when they do. But, on the other side of the equation, we have access to a huge community of knowledgeable users, along with the actual developers of the software. I will not deny that support is a critical component of any IT department, but any problem we've faced, we have been able to solve quickly and without the need of “officially sanctioned vendor support.”
An Unparalleled Development Platform
The promotional gifts business is one of those niche industries where you can't really do without custom software. There are very few well-defined business processes and the off-the-shelf solutions can't even begin to address every facet of every business. Sooner or later you will run up against some problem that a proprietary software package just isn't going to solve. For many companies, I expect this is the point they bend their rules to accommodate the software. However, this sort of thinking is antithetical to the ideals of open source. Should we need to change or extend the software to meet OUR needs, we can and are actually encouraged to do so without some restrictive license dictating how the software can be changed.
In addition, we've developed a vast array of custom software for our business in everything from Java to PHP. The development tool chain on Linux is simply second to none. Sure, we could spend thousands of dollars on restrictive closed source development tools. But for what benefit? In my humble option, the open source solutions are free, are of equal or better quality, and typically have the backing of mega-corporations like IBM, Oracle, and Red Hat.
Future Forward: To The Cloud and Beyond
At some point in the future we'll be looking at moving our front-facing web servers to the cloud. It's impossible for me to imagine NOT using Linux in a context such as this. Being able to spin up extra server instances during times of peak business is an incredible advantage, but even better is that we can achieve this without spending a dime on third-party software. Gone are the days of requiring a license for each machine. These per-machine licenses simply do not work in a “cloud context” and can run into a serious outlay of cash. Granted, software licensing costs are negligible compared to the overall costs of running a business, but when you can do it for free with a mature, highly reliable, enterprise class operating system such as Linux, it's a huge win for all stakeholders– bean counters and code monkeys alike.
Free as in Freedom
Above all, I consider myself a pragmatist when it comes to technology. If something works well I will use it, free or not... So, I do not totally subscribe to all the lofty idealism that permeates the FLOSS community. However, I do believe that using Free and Open Source software is the “right” thing to do. Given an equal choice between a free and non-free software package, free software makes the most sense both from a practical standpoint and a moral standpoint.
When you agree to an End User License Agreement, you are, in effect, signing over control of YOUR information to a third party who might not always have your best interest in mind. Indeed, when you examine the fine print in, say, a Microsoft EULA, you'll often find that they view you more as their adversary than their customer. These sorts of licenses, in my estimation, are unethical in that they deny the user fundamental rights over their own work and their own data. Imagine, for a moment, that you bought a car but had to sign a “usage agreement” from the manufacturer stating that you'll never look under the hood, you'll never hang fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror, and that you'll never drive in reverse on Thursdays. You would, of course, find such an agreement ridiculous. Nevertheless, users are checking off “I agree” to licenses such as this every day. Linux, and OSS as a whole, sets us free from this madness, respects our rights, and allows us to operate within OUR own best interests and how WE see fit. It's incredibly liberating and eliminates a whole class of 'licensing' concerns within our company.
It Just Makes Sense
Ultimately, Linux and Open Source Software is simply the most practical solution for GoPromotional. The above points are just a small sample of reasons why we like and choose Linux. Of course each business is different and what works well in one setting might not be the best choice for another setting. But one thing is clear; Linux is a viable choice worthy of consideration for small business.
Go Promotional a leading supplier of promotional gifts and items.