In the IT enduser community, the idea of Open Source brings with it a plethora of elation as well as fear. Ask anyone who is an IBM AS/400 and they will tell you that they are stuck in their for life – at least until they decide to get out of what they put themselves into.

Yes, IBM AS/400 (rebranded as IBM System i in 2006 and subsequently replaced by the IBM Power System line) is a very stable platform. The many applications developed for it are rock solid, enterprise-class software that do what they are meant to do. Throughout its period of reincarnation (1988 to present), the hardware and software may have changed but IBM made sure the applications are transplanted. 

I am digressing so let me paraphrase one CIO comment about their AS/400 investment. “We are stuck and we know we are paying through the nose but we have no alternative today!”

Distributed Computing (DC) arose partly in response to the need to get out of the mainframe and mini-computer era of vendor lock-in. Little did we know that while DC hailed the arrival of an army of vendors offering competing and complementary systems, the liberation was partial – because many of the initial technologies created in support of DC are proprietary in nature. Sure they are able to talk to other vendor’s solutions but this is because application programming interface (API) were built to allow for some semblance of interoperability.

Enter Open Source. The idea that a program’s code is freely available to the end-user community to use and modify to suite a particular need. Can a software company survive giving away its software? Red Hat thinks so. In fact, within the Open Source community, Red Hat is a testament to the idea that you can give away copies of your software (even if it was originally conceived by someone else), make money and prosper.

SUN Microsystems is another company that is heavy into the Open Source momentum. But whereas RedHat is 100% open source, SUN still has technology that is proprietary – afterall, SUN started life in the proprietary world. It can be argued that JAVA was SUN’s first experiment in Open Source. Thankfully, the JAVA community thrives today despite competition.

As with all things, proven or otherwise, there are skeptics. In human nature, the biggest fear is always that of the unknown. For many enterprises whose businesses depend on the smooth running of mission-critical applications, the high price associated with proprietary hardware, middleware or operating systems, custom application, and availability of skilled resources is a bitter sweet pill that they’d readily swallow.

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Consider this situation:you heard about this latest product from vendor A. It is still in development stage but your sales rep from Vendor A is confidentially leaking information to you about the product. Given that the purported new product meets a specific requirement you’ve been looking for, you “confidentially” indicate the potential of a sale coming into the horizon.

Along comes another sales rep from Vendor B. He, too, is aware of the rumored new product from Vendor A. In fact, he and his colleagues have been briefed about the new developments at Vendor A more than many of the people at Vendor A. He brings you some “secret” documents that purportedly claim to debunk the new product. The new information looks damning. What do you do?

Welcome to the real world of competition. The tactic illustrated above is called Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt or FUD. FUD is a commonly used tool to slow or stop a competitor from closing a sale. But it is not limited in its use to new products. It is also used in ‘combat’ situations where a sales opportunity is being hard fought by everyone. Sales rep throw FUD documents to instill a sense of fear in the would-be buyer.

The old adage that no one gets fired from buying IBM does not always work anymore.

These days competitors will try to stop a sale simply by debunking the competitor’s claims about their product. Consider you are buying the latest solution from Vendor A. But reps from Vendor B show you that the offering from Vendor A is flawed. What do you do with this information? If you want to keep your job, you would do well to investigate further. The additional time to investigate will slow down the sales process. It may even give you time to launch a new counter-offer, perhaps a new solution of your own.

Sales reps are hoping the FEAR of failure will create UNCERTAINTY in your decision-making process. At best, they hope this will create DOUBT, which will result in either totally throwing out the proposal from Vendor A. At worst, it will slow down the sales process long enough for the competition to make their own counter offer. Is it ethical? In reality it is bad marketing practice and bad business practice. That said, it is a often used sales strategy or tactic. 

Not all FUD is true. But then again, not all FUD is false either. The best option is to investigate the claims from both camps. Ask around from consultants, experts and your peers. Perform due diligence. Remember, the diligent one keeps his job and becomes the hero. And everybody loves a hero.

Check-out the formal and more detailed definition on the following sites:
Wikipedia: Fear, Uncertainty and doubt
Whatis.com: What is FUD?