Open source enters mainstream

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Open source enters mainstream

Enterprises previously sceptical about open-source alternatives to commercial software have opened up to the concept, an SDForum conference in California heard yesterday. 

But panellists at the conference also admitted that open-source business models for both commercial and open-source software companies still needed work. 

Eric Friedman, infrastructure architecture team leader at Wells Fargo, said there had been a "tectonic shift" in corporate attitudes toward open source. "Companies are now asking, 'Why are we buying a vendor product when we could use this open-source thing?' That's become the default position - to look for a free solution."

SRA principal consultant Bruce Momjian said commercial software companies were being forced to address the issue of open source. "There really are no companies that aren't being challenged now by open source," he said. "All the companies developing software now see this coming. It's just a question of time to see where this is finally going to end up." 

"Almost everything we do is touched by open source," said Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python object-oriented language and an official at Elemental Security. He added that his company was trying to make money on software that was not open source, but that part of the software would eventually become open source. 

BEA Systems meanwhile is trying to woo developers to its commercial WebLogic Server platform through the Beehive open-source tools project it donated to the Apache Software Foundation, according to Cliff Schmidt, director of open-source strategy at BEA.

But Deborah Magid, director of strategic alliances at IBM, argued that business models for young, open-source companies were still unproven. She cited open-source companies such as JBoss and MySQLab as companies that had had some initial success. "These are not companies that are driving big revenues right now," she said. 

Bob Bickel, vice-president of business development at JBoss, said open source differed from the historical commercial process in which a customer needed to get support from the supplier who sold the software. "With open source, you obviously have a different set-up because everybody's got access to the source." So multiple companies can provide support. 

JBoss sells support for its open-source application server, but so can rivals. "What this will do is lower the amount of money that's actually in the software business," said Bickel. 

According to Kevin Efrusy of Accel Partners, open-source projects have been about commoditisation, not complexity. "Open-source projects are not as much about innovation as about commoditisation and ubiquity," he said. He cited VMware's virtualisation software as a product category that had not been available as an open-source solution because of its complexity. 

Magid agreed, saying that the most successful open-source projects had been things that were easily componentised. Something such as a SAS's business intelligence offering would probably not find its way into open source, she said.

Paul Krill writes for InfoWorld


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