I recently have experimented with Ubuntu at work and wrote an article called "Eat my own dog food" about my experience. I got into a philosophical debate about the value of open source with one of my readers and also was the recipient of smears and smirks from a few folks at work.
Obviously there are a lot of folks in IT who are not doing their homework when it comes to Open Source. In this post I will educate those who haven't been paying attention to the monumental shift in acceptance of Open Source technologies over the last few years.
So where do I start? For those who still doubt and/or dislike Open Source, here is the definition of Open Source from www.opensource.org
"Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in."
For the uninformed, Open Source is more then just Linux on the desktop. Ok, enough housekeeping.
Now let's dive into how companies are making strategic business decisions to embrace Open Source technologies. In this article from CNet, Forrester Research states that "over 60 percent of 140 companies surveyed plan to use, or are using, open-source products". Many new startups are leveraging open source to reduce startup costs and improve speed to market. The article continues by saying, "By tapping into the open-source world, fledgling software outfits can assemble their software products from freely available components". Continuing further through the article they point out how "established software companies, such as BEA Systems, Computer Associates International, IBM and Novell, have spearheaded open-source projects as a way of vetting new code and getting their products into the hands of potential customers."
This is a very important point. Many of the people who mock Open Source are using it in the products and services they use everyday. Google and Amazon both run on Linux and Yahoo runs on BSD. IBM is a big believer in Linux and both IBM and BEA leverage Eclipse for their development environment. Go to this page and you will see Oracle pushing Python, Ruby, and many others. So if using Open Source is strategic for billion dollar companies like IBM, Oracle, and BEA, why do I get crazy looks when I mention it at work or on this blog?
Here is another believer. Researcher IDC states that Open Source is "...the most significant all-encompassing and long-term trend that the software industry has seen since the early 1980s and predicted it would fundamentally change the value proposition of packaged software for customers." But don't stop there. Take a look at what is going on around the world. Apache is powering 58% of all websites. Firefox has increased its market share by over 43% in the last year up to 13.67%. IE is down to 79% from 99% a few years ago. Some universities are moving to gmail and other free alternatives because they are tired of the costs and the headaches that come with trying to maintain and secure Outlook. IBM just endorsed MySQL. Dell is now shipping laptops and PC's with Ubuntu. I could go on forever but you get the point by now.
What is even more interesting to me is that with the adoption of SaaS, Web 2.0 technologies, and services, the relevance and the dependency on operating systems is dramatically decreasing. Once you start running your critical applications using the SaaS model or you start deploying your applications with robust UIs in a browser, who really cares what the OS is any more?
You can ignore Open Source but it isn't going away. As leaders in IT, we have a responsibility to the folks who write us checks to put aside our personal preferences and pursue technologies that make good business sense. For those companies that put together 2 and 3 year plans, you should at least have a strategy to investigate opportunities to leverage Open Source and spend a few R&D dollars to understand it better.
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