I just read two really interesting articles (Giving proprietary vendors a run for their money & Could Linux become the dominant OS?). These articles and a discussion I had yesterday about budget constraints for the next calendar year makes me think that Open Source Software (OSS) is on the verge of becoming mainstream over the next few years. I have already seen the statistics where 51% of companies are using OSS in mission critical applications. This is starting to look very similar to the days where everyone was fleeing the mainframe for client server technology. The client server craze was driven by lower cost and greater flexibility. Does that sound familiar?
Back to my budget discussion. I was having a discussion with a peer about budget constraints for the upcoming year. Our budgets typically remain flat or slightly increase each year. But each year the cost of doing business rises so we really have less to work with. We have been leveraging newer technologies, like virtualization, disk consolidation and compression, and others that have been driving costs down. Over the past few years we have been dealing with our budget constraints through technology improvements in the hardware area. Now its time to look at software.
As I look at the back end servers, I can't see how we can continue to justify spending the money on licenses and maintenance for proprietary operating systems like AIX or SCO or Windows 2003 unless the applications we are serving up mandate them. For example, we obviously need a Windows server to run Exchange, but many third party packages we buy give us the option of Windows or Linux. For those worried about support for OSS, read this article about open source service providers. With the advancements in virtualization, I should be able to create as many test and development environments I need as long as I don't have to continue paying for the OS licenses. Linux gives me that flexibility. I think a good strategy this year is to look at all of your software assets to see if there are candidates to move off of proprietary solutions to open source solutions. Once you have identified the candidates, put a plan together for replacing these systems over time.
Then I started looking further down the road. I have written many articles about my concerns with Vista and how this might be the right time to start a Linux on the desktop pilot. With the potential of Linux on the desktop being introduced to the enterprise over the next few years, coupled with applications moving towards SaaS models and rich AJAX enabled interfaces, does it still make sense to leverage .Net technologies and force the .Net framework and ActiveX controls on clients? If it makes sense to reduce licensing costs at the middle tier, Java, Ruby, or LAMP technologies sure look like better solutions.
So as I look down the road and see a continuous push to reduce costs while increasing value, I wonder how much proprietary software companies will be purchasing 5-10 years from now. Will it be like the mainframe where the only systems left standing are the ones that have no cost justification to replace? Will the norm be that new applications move to OSS? I know we are still a few years away from this but OSS is becoming more mainstream and widely acceptable in corporate IT whether we want to admit it or not.
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