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4 reasons companies say yes to open source

By Howard Baldwin
January 6, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Asked if it's surprising for such a large company to use open source, Richards cites Linux's path to widespread acceptance in commercial organizations. In the beginning, he explains, enterprises worried that Linux was a hobbyist's operating system, not one that a big corporation could depend on. But over the years, "the number of people who support Linux through peer review have made it into one of the better operating systems for corporations," Richards says.

"The quality of open-source code for development comes because of the number of people who are able to contribute, review and test it," he asserts. "That means it's a solid piece of code." That development structure also ties back into cost: "If you had to pay for that yourself, you'd end up with enormous costs because you'd have to do testing and code review yourself," Richards adds. "That's one of [open source's] big advantages: quality at a reasonable cost."

Open source delivers business agility

Not to be confused with agile development, business agility is the ability to react to marketplace demands quickly. Open source provides this to developers and businesses alike by speeding up the pace of software development.

Ron Pitt, the developer who worked with Development Is Child's Play's Wiss, is a partner with software consultancy LevelHead Solutions in Poway, Calif. If he needs new code for a project, he downloads it in minutes rather than developing it himself. "Sure, some of it's buggy, but I'd rather spend 15 minutes debugging it than writing it from scratch in 15 hours," Pitt says.

Businesses likewise benefit from open source's ability to let them react quickly. For one thing, companies that use open software code aren't tied to vendors' timelines for commercial application upgrades. "If you have to wait for vendors to make the changes you want, it affects the pace at which your company can innovate," says Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Ottawa-based Eclipse, an open-source community for individuals and organizations focused on tools originally launched by IBM for Java.

Madhu Nutakki, vice president of digital presence at Oakland, Calif.-based healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, concurs that open source brings value in the form of flexibility.

[Open source] gives us more flexibility when we release updates more frequently.
Madhu Nutakki, VP, Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente has been using the GitHub source code control system since 2011. "It was built by developers for releasing code in an expedited way. It gives us more flexibility when we release updates more frequently," says Nutakki. (Note that while GitHub also works with proprietary development tools, Kaiser uses it primarily for open source deployment.)

"We started using GitHub because our paradigm changed to a faster release model," Nutakki explains. The healthcare provider's increasing push into mobile means that it's now serving customers who have higher expectations for frequent updates. "We used to build large applications with a release cycle of every six months. Over the last two years, we do releases more quickly -- monthly, quarterly and even faster," he says. "With other products we were using, it took much longer to do a build. With GitHub, it takes an hour."



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