The state of open source: Evolving trends

The state of open source: Evolving trends

Industry experts offer their thoughts on where open source is heading in the next five years

11 leaders from the open source and vendor communities discuss the current open source climate and outline the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Where do you see open source heading in the next five years, especially with regard to development, community, and market opportunities?

Matt Asay, vice president of business development Alfresco

Asay: We have demonstrated that it's possible to kick-start successful open source projects with venture capital. As such, I believe we'll see a real flowering of commercial open source projects with significant competition within markets. We're seeing this today in the IT management market, with Hyperic, GroundWork, Zenoss, and others competing aggressively for market share. In the enterprise content management market, Alfresco finally got a real peer in Acquia. This is good and indicates that the best is yet to come in commercial open source.

I also believe we're going to see the proliferation of projects like Eclipse, Linux, and Firefox -- projects that command significant commercial investment, simultaneously serving as hubs for competition and collaboration. As such projects flourish, we'll see greater innovation because each individual market participant won't have to reinvent the wheel and will instead innovate around the edges of communal projects.

Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition Co-founder of the Open Source Initiative

Perens: I think that most reporters are misreading the economics of open source, and I hope that changes. You see a lot of publicity for companies that put open source in a profit center, like MySQL. But for most companies, open source is operated in an IT cost center. Many open source developers are paid these days, but the majority are actually working for customer, not vendor, organizations. For those companies, open source is a way to distribute the cost and risk of developing non-business-differentiating software that they need to support their own operations, but which isn't particularly visible to their customers. Those folks are interesting because they don't have the problems with sustainability or conflict of interest that the open source vendors can have.

So, I think the currently underreported and future trend is the shift of the development of non-business-differentiating software within companies to open source. Consider that if you are an IT manager, you can directly help your company's bottom line if you move as much money as possible to developing the software that is customer-visible and provides your company with a business differentiator against its competitors. But where do you get the other 95 percent of the software in most companies, which isn't business-differentiating? You participate in open source communities to build it, and thus spread out the cost and risk with your partners in those communities. You can share the development with them without hurting your company, because the software isn't business-differentiating.

Javier Soltero, CEO Hyperic

Soltero:I've always believed that open source will soon become the "price for entry" for any emerging software vendor and an increasingly attractive alternative for mature vendors with the guts to embrace it. The reason for this is based on the "historical baggage" of how commercial software vendors have treated their customers in the past. Expensive, up-front costs coupled with business models where the vendor held most of the cards and could bank on a good salesman to close the deal. Customers are educated into the art of procuring software and are demanding a process that starts and ends with them in control. Open source affords this by allowing those customers to evaluate and consume software under their own terms and engage with the vendor around the points of value that are clear to them. This trend depends on the creation of a community of users -- who can otherwise be regarded as empowered prospects -- who participate in the use, development, and refinement of a product.

In less than 5 years, in fact, starting even in 2008, vendors will not be able to bank their futures solely on them being "open source" and instead will have to use the benefits described above to drive the same degree of innovation that powered the first 25 years of the commercial software industry.

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