Open Source Software and the Call Center

By Allen David Niven

Why do Google, eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo run on Linux and not Microsoft? Why have governments worldwide (including China, Germany, and Israel) mandated Linux instead of Microsoft? Why is the U.S. Army spending billions to switch from Windows to Linux? Why are 60 million Brazilian school kids now on Linux? Why did Sabre, the worldwide airline reservations company, require Asterisk in a 2007 RFP?

Why are there no Linux viruses, adware, or spyware? Why do we hear of “Winrot” (PCs slowing down with usage over time), but never Linrot? Or “Windoze” (increasing instability over time), but never Lindoze? Why are Linux machines never “slow today?” Why are some computer books titled Windows Secrets, but never Linux Secrets, and how did the authors discover the secrets? Why is the Apple computer operating system built on Free BSD and Mach (Linux cousins), and not Microsoft? How can one operating system – Linux – run the world’s largest and fastest IBM super-computer mainframes and also the latest cell phone prototypes – as well as your desktop PC?

How do you get tech support from something that is free? Why did Red Hat (a Linux provider) announce continued record growth, while Microsoft is laying off? Why does Red Hat even exist if Linux is free? If Linux is free, who organizes it into versions (for example, the latest version is 2.6)? What is a “copyleft” (as opposed to a copyright)? Why do programmers contribute to Linux if they aren’t paid for it? That’s a lot of questions!

First, consider the question as to why there are no Linux viruses. Linux source code is written and maintained by tens of millions of people worldwide. Trying to write a Linux virus would be analogous to trying to do armed robbery at an NRA convention – guns would be pointed at you very quickly. In the Linux world, the guns are the programmer’s eyeballs. If a Linux virus is written, it’s going to be caught and fixed in minutes, and the word would go out worldwide instantly. With closed source software, the existence of the virus may be denied until the right team in the right cubicle is located.

Source code is organized into projects, and projects are maintained by maintainers. It can be very prestigious to get your source code accepted into a release version, like an artist signing a painting to be displayed at city hall. The maintaining committee handles the version releases. Generally, people contribute and/or create open source software because they are dissatisfied with whatever is available and what it costs; that is to say, they write it for their own use.

As far as copyleft, apply the rules you were taught when you went camping – leave it cleaner than when you found it. If you build a lean-to as protection against the rain, you leave it there for the next guy. Strictly speaking, open source software cannot be “sold,” but one can charge for installation, maintaining, training, and configuration. Likewise, because so many people are online at any given time, twenty-four hours per day seven days per week, tech support is often instantaneous. However, live tech support is usually not needed because Google search effectively provides one huge Linux tech manual and knowledge base. If you paste an error into Google’s search box, it is likely that someone else already had the problem and posted the fix. In addition, almost everyone you will encounter online has a positive, helpful attitude precisely because they are all trying to get things to work – just like you – so you will never run into the “I just work here” attitude.

Although Windows users may claim that their computer is “slow today,” this is not really the case. In fact, if it seems slow, it is because the processor is running flat-out breathless, while its CPU cycles are being stolen by hidden viruses and/or adware or spyware processes – thus causing it to take more time to do what you want it to do. This is the origin of the terms “Winrot” and “Windoze.”

Conversely, the speed of development in Linux, a worldwide “communal” operating system, outpaces anything else, and this is why it can run both an IBM mainframe and a cell phone prototype. The secret is the sheer numbers of people contributing to it.

Relative to call centers, custom features can be outsourced and completed in weeks, and maintenance can be astonishingly inexpensive.

Allen David Niven is CEO of GlobalFone; he may be reached at 646-428-0700 or

[From Connection Magazine June 2009]