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App developers could make better use of open source

By Kathleen Lau
April 21, 2009 12:00 PM ET

A Waltham, Mass.-based provider of tools for accelerating the use of open source in software development estimates conservatively that 10% of development spending is redundant given the open source code already available.

Black Duck Software Inc.'s CEO and president, Timothy Yeaton, said there is an opportunity, especially in tough economic times when IT budgets are slim, to save money and redirect scarce developer resources to other areas of the business. "We see development budgets cut, yet these companies are in markets where they're serving customers, where they have to continue to innovate through the recession," said Yeaton.

Collectively, U.S. companies can realize savings of more than $22 billion a year by reusing open source code in their application development, said Yeaton. There is a definite potential for significant savings on development costs, and companies "may be aware of occasional components of open source that might be useful for certain tasks, but the scope of it might be underestimated dramatically," said Yeaton.

There exist, he said, more than 200,000 open-source projects representing more than 4.9 billion lines of code, an investment of 2 million developer years -- figures derived from Black Duck's own database, called KnowledgeBase, of open source code and associated licence information, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

In fact, the 10% estimate is an extremely conservative figure, said Yeaton, who said he has witnessed a customer, after committing to maximize the use of open source code, save about 88% of development costs. While that individual result does fall at the higher end of the spectrum, Yeaton noted that "50% is definitely achievable."

Jay Lyman, enterprise software analyst at New York-based The 451 Group, agreed that the 10% estimate is conservative because the use of open source in most organizations is typically significantly underestimated, especially among those at the management level. Leadership may conjecture they are using just several open source components, said Lyman, but then "find they have 140 different open-source packages in use either in their business or in their products."

The use of open source code in application development is more than just a mere cost-cutting strategy, said Yeaton, choosing instead to characterize the approach as a fundamental change in how customers are building software. "It's really shifted customers' emphasis from 'How do I define a solution from end to end?' to 'How can I identify components that I can already use, integrate them, and spend my scarce developer resources on adding my specific business value or drive innovation?'"

The hurdles to reusing open source code stem from a lack of awareness of what's even available and possible, as well as automation and management challenges with incorporating open-source components into an application development cycle, said Yeaton.

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