Eric feels that the traditional term, "free software," had been a millstone around all of our necks, and was simply a nonstarter as rhetoric to convince any but the hard-core believers. From the businessman's perspective, "free software" sounds at best ambiguous, or possibly even threatening: you must explain which meaning of "free" you intend (free as in speech, rather than free as in beer), and then clarify what free speech has to do with software. Your audience might react, "Free? That sounds cheap, shoddy." Or, worse, "Free? That sounds like communism."
It's much more effective to sell the concept on the basis of reliability, instead. Big corporations lose millions of dollars per hour when their datacenters go down. Executives are keenly interested in avoiding that.
Also, even concerning their desktop boxes, executives are aware of the money drain. Mean time before failure (MTBF) of Windows 9x is less than a week. As an installation ages, that shrinks to less than a day. With Linux, a box left alone has MTBF of around two years.
Your winning points will be:
- Total cost of ownership (TCO)
- Insulation from risk and loss of control
An executive who allows his company to becomes dependent on software he is not allowed to see inside, let alone change, has lost control of his business, and is on the wrong side of a monopoly relationship with a vendor who can thereby control his business. With open source, the executive is in control, and nobody can take that away. The opportunity to reduce and control business risk is a key concern of any CEO. You'll be listened to.
Eric warned that none of this will work without purging one's mind of the common techophile's notion that business people are stupid. Eric characterized them as "differently optimized," and said that we should respect them for their specialty. For one thing, you cannot sell to people if you project an attitude of disrespect. Even if you don't express it explicitly, it will come through in body language, intonation, and other subtle aspects of your demeanor.
Of course, it probably seems reckless to approach one's company CEO and advocate changing company policies, and it may well be so. It's usually more successful to work on other people's organizations, since companies seem oddly resistant to listening to their own technical people.