As proprietary IT suppliers offer support, obstacles to adoption disappear
Open source software should not be seen as a transient phenomenon. As the proprietary sector consolidates around a few large players, open source promises some independence and empowerment of users. Now that large commercial IT suppliers, such as IBM, are providing support, there are no fundamental obstacles to its adoption.
A recent Ovum customer survey found that 65% of respondents are using open source software. About 70% of these are primarily motivated by cost savings, but not in the direct sense that they expect to get something for nothing. Most realise that the initial purchase price of software is only a small part of its total lifecycle cost. Indirect cost savings can be obtained by using open source as a bargaining chip with proprietary software suppliers, but only after the organisation has shown that it is equipped to make the switch.
Most users believe open source software is the best tool for the job. A few were attracted by the availability of the source code, either so that they could modify it for their specific needs or simply as an assurance that the software could be maintained even if the supplier went out of business. However, this attraction was mainly found in niche areas where software customisation is common, such as embedded systems, and an emerging interest in ERP and CRM applications.
Linux is driving the open source movement in the commercial world. All of the open source users in Ovum's survey have some computers running Linux, and most use open source web servers. Fifty per cent use open source products in their software development activities, while only a few use open source e-mail database and office products.
These organisations use proprietary products alongside open source ones. The growth in the use of Linux has come at the expense of Windows, Unix and other operating systems in almost equal measure. Linux is predominantly deployed on servers, and particularly on web servers.
Open source software is no longer about idealistic visions. Businesses are looking for stability and quality from whatever supplier it comes. Few want to be active participants in the software creation business.
Open source software now comes mostly from IT companies or universities, and the majority is produced by people who were paid to write it. Support and maintenance can be provided by a supplemental agreement between the supplier and customer. The major software suppliers are playing an increasing role in providing open source products.
Users are not much concerned about the multitude of open source licensing regimes, but the supplier community is hampered by the restrictions. The main qualification for a product to be categorised as open source is that its license must satisfy the criteria of the Open Source Initiative. This requires that users have access to the source code and that the software can be freely distributed. The intellectual property remains with the provider.
More than 30 different licenses have been recognised as meeting the OSI's criteria. The general public license is the most common and also one of the most controversial as it demands that any software derived from a piece of GPL software is also distributed under its arrangements.
In contrast, the Berkeley Software Distribution license allows derived versions to become proprietary products. The difference is of little concern to organisations that simply want to use the product, or its derivatives, internally. However, the GPL control of the Linux kernel does constrain the development of open source.
Graham Titterington is a senior analyst at Ovum
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Open Source Initiative www.opensource.org
Why choose open source?
- Indirect cost savings can be obtained by using open source as a bargaining chip with proprietary software suppliers
- Support and maintenance can be provided by a supplemental agreement between the supplier and customer
- Access to source code may be important for long-term software maintenance.
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