Open for Business

Open for Business

A recent report published by CSC's Leading Edge Forum makes a strong case for open source software, but is sound business sense being lost amid all the cheerleading?

In a world of industry analysis reports that are dispassionate to the point of boredom, it is somewhat refreshing to find one that virtually gushes in its enthusiasm for a particular technology.

Statements like "organizations achieve time-to-market, innovation and product quality like never before" and "a treasure chest teeming with technologies and best-practice methods" read more like vendors' promotional brochures than the normal stock-in-trade of independent analysts. But Bill Koff, vice president of CSC's Leading Edge Forum (LEF), says that "enthusiasm" is not abnormal for his organization's outputs, although he denies that they also represent endorsement.

"CSC is independent of product," Koff insists. "We try to help clients in whatever they choose and leverage whatever they can . . . Would we be an advocate for any particular technology? No. We are an advocate for what works for our clients."

The report in question is the LEF's Open Source: Open for Business, released at the end of September. It covers the nature of the open source community, the range of application of open source technologies, and the legal and business issues associated with its development and use. Koff visited Australia recently for CIO magazine's "Building The 21st Century Organization" conference, and spoke with CIO prior to the report's release. He says the report took a year to develop, and "we were very surprised to what extent open source was happening with clients".

It should be pointed out that it is not entirely clear who the authors of the report are, although probably in true open source style it is more likely a collaboration. Instrumental in research were two German CSC employees, Stefan Hohn and Gabor Herr, both LEF associates and part of CSC's open source team. Significantly, the report says, "the two poured their insights and their heart and soul into the report, which reflects their passion and business sensibility around the open source movement". They were assisted by significant contributions from Maja Kreikemeier, research; Tom Knapp, legal and business issues; and Lisa Braun, writing and editing; plus contributions from almost 40 others, primarily CSC staff.

An Open Secret

The LEF report sums up the lure of open source software in that "it is 'free' in the sense that anyone can use it, modify it, create derived works from it and redistribute it - and there are no licence fees. You have access to a worldwide development community that improves, adapts and fixes the software, often much faster than in the proprietary vendor world. You are not beholden to a vendor for fixes and enhancements; there is no vendor product lock-in."

That is certainly why so many governments and government agencies around the world have already or are looking at mandating the use of open standards, and why many private sector organizations are playing a role in the open source community or are assessing its relevance and benefits for future use. Nonetheless, there are those who feel that open source is not without some disadvantages, even to the extent that those disadvantages outweigh any claimed benefits. Even some players deeply embedded in the open source arena admit that not everything is rosy.

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