Open Insights 03 – The Business of Open Source

The Business of Open Source

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People around the world, in business, government, and education

have all heard about Open Source. It’s the buzzword of the hour.

You may have heard about specific projects like the Linux Operating

System, or Apache, the webserver that runs nearly 70% of internet

webservers (http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html),

or various government initiatives to switch to Open Source from

proprietary alternatives. In any case it is more and more at the

forefront of IT decision making.

Behind all of the hoopla, hardcore believers & opponents, figures, and

statistics lies a pool of resources, a methodology and technology that

deserves your careful consideration.

What is Open Source exactly?

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To be fair it means a lot of things to a lot of people. The term

itself means that source code is included with the distribution of

an application. To end users, and business managers, this seems

rather esoteric. I’m not going to view the source code, you might say

so why does it matter. Well for one your developers can and may

want to look at it. For reasons of privacy and security it is good

to be able to scan code and ensure none of your business information,

that you’d rather not be stored centrally, be sent by an application

unbenownst to you. For your technology staff though, it can mean

life or death at times, when an application just won’t behave, and

you’re having trouble getting support to recognize a problem you’re

having. Given the source you can track it down directly, and fix it

inhouse if need be. But Open Source also encourages communities of

developers in a very ad-hoc and unpredictable way, creating

collaboration, and ultimately resulting in better software.

How can Open Source Software help my business?

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There are three ways Open Source can help a business – cost,

flexibility, and open standards.

Ok, lets save the best for last, and look at open standards first. Well

standards mean compatability. When standards are published, and open

anyone, on any platform can implement to that spec, and build compatible

software. It means an open playing field where the best company, with

the greatest technology wins. It also means your technology lasts longer

because you don’t necessarily need to always update to the latest and

greatest. If a particular version is rock solid, and stable, you can

stay there, without worry that you’ll soon be obsolete.

What about flexibility? Well in terms of licenses, the Open Source world

includes many different types, from the thoroughly idealistic GPL

(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html) to the more business friendly

‘Free for non-commercial use’, and various other proprietary with source

licenses.

Here’s an example. Suppose you’d like to use the latest version of ASP,

ASP.NET. It is free to download and install to your heart’s content.

But if you’re running an older version of the Operating System, you’ll

have to upgrade that first. You may have a whole server farm of 10

Windows boxes, and you want to add one new one. The version differences

are going to force you to upgrade those 10 servers first. Effectively

your Operating System does not last you as long. Whereas in the Linux

world, for example, you can still run 1.x versions. They remain stable

and useful, although not as feature rich as the latest releases.

So flexibility has a lot to do with licensing.

Now for your favorite, cost. Open Source software is often free. Now

that does not mean it is free to implement because surely you have

investment costs in terms of hardware, and engineering know-how. But

the software itself is not going to bite you. Look at some real-world

business examples if you have any doubt.

RedHat

http://www.redhat.com/solutions/info/casestudies/

Novell

http://www.novell.com/success/

What should I be concerned about?

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The most important consideration for a business embarking on an Open

Source strategy is IT knowledge and expertise. Your staff will need

to be fluent in the new technologies both in terms of choices and

directions, as well as support and administration of your internal

needs.

In the area of support services it is a good idea to consider how

Open Source projects can differ from their commercial alternatives.

Some distributions of underlying Open Source technologies such as

Red Hat and SUSE provide support services directly. Although they

are not the core development community, the put together a distribution

of the Linux kernel, and related applications, and also provide

modifications and add-ons only available in their distribution.

For MySQL and PHP, you can also purchase support services.

Lastly you may have intellectual property and or litigation concerns.

The news continues to cover the SCO battle against Linux and

allegations of proprietary Unix code contributed to the kernel. To

allay any such fears keep in mind that although SCO has gone after

big boys such as DaimlerChrysler, and IBM, they have failed to win

any of those cases.

DaimlerChrysler/SCO Case Winds Down

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/12/04/2052250&tid=88&tid=123

Groklaw:

http://www.groklaw.net/

SCO Facts Website:

http://scofacts.org/

Conclusion

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Open Source is an ever expanding area of technology, and one which

smart and forward looking companies, institutions, and governments

continue to embrace for reasons that span cost, privacy, and

flexibility.

Now is the time to start planning your company’s Open Source

strategy. The reasons, and opportunities are clear and open.

Heavyweight Internet Group has specialized in Unix and Linux solutions

for Oracle since 1997. Our focus is Oracle and Open Source

infrastructures, including Oracle 8, 9i, 10g, Mysql, Linux, Apache,

Tomcat, PHP and Perl.