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Open for Business

By Frank Hayes
July 14, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - What, oh what, has happened to these open-source people? At last week's O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore., I didn't hear a lot about the philosophy and politics of "the movement." I didn't hear bitter fights over which open-source license is best, or endless fretting about the confusion over what the free in free software means -- free as in beer? Free as in ride? Free as in not in jail?
What I did hear a lot about was business.
And not just the business of selling Linux operating systems, or selling hardware bundled with MySQL databases, or selling services to install and maintain Apache Web servers and Perl scripts. No, these open-source people were talking about the kind of business issues that matter to corporate IT: how to cost-justify projects, how to stay connected with user needs, how a company can innovate by using free software -- not just profit by selling it.
So here was book publisher Tim O'Reilly, sponsor of the conference, talking about a paradigm shift in business models, in which "open-source application" doesn't just mean OpenOffice but also refers to Google and Yahoo and -- companies running on open-source software but using it in some very proprietary ways.
And over there was Ward Cunningham, one of the creators of the extreme programming approach to software development, talking about Fit, an open-source testing tool designed to link managers, developers and business users while applications are being developed.
Wait -- managers? Business models? Since when does the unstructured, unbusinesslike open-source world worry about this stuff? And O'Reilly and Cunningham weren't alone - the program was full of presentations on open-source business models that matter to corporate IT, not just Red Hat wannabes, and on open-source software and techniques that apply directly to what corporate IT shops do.
What happened to all the anticapitalist, anticorporate rhetoric that used to make the free-software crowd so easy for corporate IT people to dismiss? Oh, it's still around. It's just not where the action is anymore.
Now the action lies in doing business with open-source.
That means staying focused on the fact that you get your business advantage from your data, not your applications. And the fact that business conditions change constantly, so your software has to keep changing or it will fall out of sync. And the fact that real enterprise software depends on the people who use it as much as those people depend on the software.
Yeah, that's all stuff they were discussing in Portland. A long way from debates about politics, isn't it?
No wonder

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