When I was in college, I had a psychology professor who posited that you could train a cat (a dodgy proposition at best) to take a circuitous route to its food bowl by only rewarding that behavior. He was clearly a behaviorist and was convinced that you could completely condition the instinct to go straight to the food bowl out of the cat. To my knowledge, this professor did not own a cat and never attempted to test his assertion.
I was reminded of this after reading my friend Atanas Entchev’s post in reaction to the PostGIS Day hangout panel discussion. In his post, Atanas describes difficulty in convincing customers to consider open-source geospatial tools. These customers and prospects are comfortable with their proprietary tools and associated workflows and are reluctant to consider switching. I have encountered this attitude many times myself so I take no issue with the observation. Barriers to exit are real considerations, regardless of the new technology being considered. Organizations align themselves around their tools to achieve maximum efficiency with them. I discussed these issues at a talk I gave last year to the New Jersey Geospatial Forum about how organizations can extend their existing geospatial technology investments with open-source technologies. These issues are very real for any organization with a mature, extended investment in a particular technology stack.
Atanas went on to liken the attitude to that with which some people view alternative medicine and I can see his point. Traditional GIS has set itself apart from the rest of the technology world for so long that users are generally conditioned to believe that GIS workflows should involve a series of Rube Goldberg machinations involving file-based data sets, some proprietary scripting, and possibly some application-level business logic to relate and/or join data as necessary. This has taken various forms over the years but diagrams of those workflows tend to look the same.