The Impact of Ideology on the Organizational Adoption of Open Source Software

The Impact of Ideology on the Organizational Adoption of Open Source Software

Kris Ven (University of Antwerp, Belgium) and Jan Verelst (University of Antwerp, Belgium)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-088-2.ch020

Abstract

Previous research has shown that the open source movement shares a common ideology. Employees belonging to the open source movement often advocate the use of open source software within their organization. Hence, their belief in the underlying open source software ideology may influence the decision making on the adoption of open source software. This may result in an ideological—rather than pragmatic—decision. A recent study has shown that American organizations are quite pragmatic in their adoption decision. We argue that there may be circumstances in which there is more opportunity for ideological behavior. We therefore investigated the organizational adoption decision in Belgian organizations. Our results indicate that most organizations are pragmatic in their decision making. However, we have found evidence that suggests that the influence of ideology should not be completely disregarded in small organizations.
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Abstract

Previous research has shown that the open source movement shares a common ideology. Employees belonging to the open source movement often advocate the use of open source software within their organization. Hence, their belief in the underlying open source software ideology may influence the decision making on the adoption of open source software. This may result in an ideological—rather than pragmatic—decision. A recent study has shown that American organizations are quite pragmatic in their adoption decision. We argue that there may be circumstances in which there is more opportunity for ideological behavior. We therefore investigated the organizational adoption decision in Belgian organizations. Our results indicate that most organizations are pragmatic in their decision making. However, we have found evidence that suggests that the influence of ideology should not be completely disregarded in small organizations.
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Introduction

The free software movement—led by Richard M. Stallman—has always taken an ideological, political view on software. Adherents to the free software movement advocate that all software should be free, in the sense that it should be free to read, modify, and distribute. The open source movement on the other hand was created in order to facilitate the introduction of free software in organizations and takes a more pragmatic stance in its efforts to market open source software (OSS). Previous research has shown that the open source movement is characterized by a shared, underlying ideology (e.g., Ljungberg, 2000; Bergquist & Ljungberg, 2001). Lately, an increasing number of developers are hired by commercial organizations to work on OSS projects. These developers may or may not share the OSS ideology. Nevertheless, many adherents to the open source movement still feel connected to the OSS ideology. Moreover, commercial organizations still need to find a balance between their commercial objectives and the traditional values of the open source movement (Fitzgerald, 2006).

Many organizations have already adopted OSS, especially mature server software such as Linux and Apache. Research on the organizational adoption of OSS has shown that its use was frequently a bottom-up initiative, suggested by technical employees within the organization who are an adherent to the open source movement (Dedrick & West, 2003; West & Dedrick, 2005; Lundell, Lings, & Lindqvist, 2006). In some cases, decision makers could also be considered an adherent to the open source movement. These employees will take on the role of boundary spanners in their organization, bringing the organization in contact with new innovations (Tushman & Scanlan, 1981). West and Dedrick (2005) have found in their study on American organizations that although such employees try to ensure that an open source alternative is considered in the decision making, the final decision is made on pragmatic grounds (i.e., based on characteristics of the software such as cost, reliability, and functionality), and not based on ideological feelings towards OSS. The organizations included in their study are rather large,1 which may have had an impact on their results.

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