SDForum: Open source becoming first option

SDForum: Open source becoming first option

Enterprises that in the past may have been leery of open source alternatives to commercial software have opened up to the concept, panelists said on Tuesday at an SDForum conference entitled "Open Source - Entering the Mainstream."

But the business models of open source for both commercial and open source software companies still are being ironed out, panelists at the conference which is held in California, said.

"I guess the first thing I would say is that in the last two years I've seen a tectonic shift in this area" of corporate attitudes toward open source, said Eric Friedman, Infrastructure Architecture Team Lead at Wells Fargo & Co. Instead of needing explanations of open source, companies now are asking, "Why are we buying a vendor product when we could use this open source thing?" Friedman said.

"That's become the default position -- to look for a free solution," said Friedman.

Commercial software companies now are forced to address the issue of open source, said Bruce Momjian, who has participated with the PostgreSQL Global Development Group and is a principal consultant at SRA. "There really are no companies that aren't being challenged now by open source," Momjian said.

"All the companies developing software now see this coming," said Momjian. "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 is trying to make money on software that is not open source, but part of the software will eventually become open source.

BEA Systems, meanwhile, is trying to woo developers over to its commercial WebLogic Server platform through its Beehive open source tools project donated to the Apache Software Foundation, noted Cliff Schmidt, director of Open Source Strategy at BEA.

Business models for young, open source companies still are unproven, contended Deborah Magid, director of Strategic Alliances at IBM. She cited open source companies such as JBoss and MySQL AB as companies that have had some initial success. "These are not companies that are driving big numbers of revenues right now," Magid said.

Open source is not like the historical commercial process in which a customer needed to get support from the vendor who sold the software, said Bob Bickel, vice president of business development at JBoss. "With open source, you obviously have a different setup because everybody's got access to the source," meaning multiple companies can provide support, Bickel said.

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

Open source projects have been about commoditization rather than complexity, argued Kevin Efrusy, partner at Accel Partners. "Frankly, (with) the open source projects there's been some innovation, but they're not as much about innovation as they are about commoditization and ubiquity," Efrusy said. He cited VMware virtualization software as an example of a product category that has not been available via an open source solution because of its complexity.

Magid said the most successful open source projects have been things that are easily componentized. Something such as a SAS Institute business intelligence offering would not likely find its way into open source, she said.

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