The New Open Source

Open Source software has become one of the most important players in software development. LAMP-Linux, Apache Server, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python are the dominant players in world wide Web development as their servers have nearly two thirds of the worlds web server installations. As well, Linux in the last 6-9 months has become the unified Unix offering that IBM, HP, SGI, Sun and others could not achieve for a decade. So now major database and server software vendors such as Novell, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sun and Sybase are delivering to Linux a wide range of their product portfolios. This is having a ripple effect. MySQL has just released database clustering technology that analysts credit with giving the company a leg up on major vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Sybase. And the people at JBoss would say they are the untold Open Source success story as they maintain about a 27% market share in the very intensely competitive J2EE market place.

But the Open Source surge is not limited to development tools. Go to HotScripts.com, SourceForge.net, or Jars.com and users will find many thousands of free, open source programs available. Many are complete business applications in categories such as accounting, bulletin board services, content management systems, order entry systems, and countless other applications. And these are not tinsel apps but rather category leaders as in the case of the PHPBB2 bulletin board or the Gallery web photo album.

Open Source is a reaction against inherent complexity in computing(more eyes and minds to polish the code) and the EULA protected software vendors(we dont have to respond to bug fixes and upgrade requests except on our own sweet time versus Open Sources generally fast bug fix and responsive upgrade cycles). But also Open Source is a defensive reaction to the Microsoft monopoly(Redmond ultimately decides what runs on 90% of all desktops versus Open Source says put it up on SourceForge and see what the public has to say). Finally Open Source has significantly lower initial cost and probably equivalent ongoing total cost of ownership in comparison with most comparable software. But for these virtues there are some prices to pay.

Getting up-to-date documentation, start up assistance, and/or ongoing support varies widely among Open source software projects. And Open Source does not sponsor and reward significant new innovations well. As IDC analyst Carl Olofson put it succinctly: “Open Source isnt about innovation so much as perfection of known technology”. Pure GPL Open Source currently says good luck making money on documentation and service; oh and by the way all your competitors get to be freeloaders because they get your code and extensions gratis. As well pure Open Source has little funding and a poor track record for enforcing its own standards. Not a great business model for corporate executives looking to Open Source to help cut costs or to open up new IT opportunities. So far pure Open Source has succeeded best in huge markets like operating systems and database where demand for documentation, support and training assistance allow vendors to make money.

But Open Source is already changing from strict GPL-GNU Public License Open Source to shades of gray with the Apache, BSD, and Dual Licensing variants from TrollTech and MySQL. The crux of the new Open Source is setting up licensing such that freeloaders are curtailed, the source remains open, yet enough revenue is derived such that a development staff can generate new innovations and/or service. This set of New Open Source vendors can be true to the spirit of Open Source, while deriving enough cash as to not have to live hand-to-mouth.

So developers and IT management should stay tuned to the growing number of New Open Source development and application tool vendors. The New Open Source is nothing less than a better model on how software should be developed, priced and supported. It is geared to being more responsive and responsible to its community of users. But also in that responsive spirit, the New Open Source is changing how it is organized to respond to some of its own weaknesses. So if some one says to you – “if its not pure, free as in freedom, GPL Open Source – its not Open Source”. Just reply – GPL Open Source works well in some markets, but the New Open Source variants where all the source remains open, freely accessible and user modifiable are starting to flourish as well. In sum, Open Source is new, open and modifiable, even in its own organization and rules. Because of this, the New Open Source will change the basis on which all software is made, priced and supported. Given the difference between EULA vs Open software, right now this observer votes/buys/uses Open quite a bit more often than EULA.