The Business of Open Source
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
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?
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?
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
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.
What should I be concerned about?
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
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
SCO Facts Website:
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
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.