SDForum: Open-source a first option for more companies

One panel member at the event described a 'tectonic shift' in attitudes

Enterprises that in the past may have been leery of open-source alternatives to commercial software have become more receptive to the idea, panelists said yesterday at an SDForum conference in Santa Clara, Calif., titled "Open Source -- Entering the Mainstream." But the business models of open-source for both commercial and open-source software companies are still being ironed out, panelists said.

"I guess the first thing I would say is that in the last two years, I've seen a tectonic shift" in corporate attitudes toward open-source, said Eric Friedman, infrastructure architecture team lead at San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. Instead of needing explanations of open-source, companies now are asking, "Why are we buying a vendor product when we could use this open-source thing?" Friedman noted.

"That's become the default position -- to look for a free solution," he added.

Commercial software companies are now being forced to address the issue of open-source, said Bruce Momjian, who has participated in the PostgreSQL Global Development Group and is a principal consultant at Fairfax, Va.-based SRA International Inc. "There really are no companies that aren't being challenged now by open-source," he said. "All the companies developing software now see this coming. It's just a question of time to see where this is finally going to end up."

"Almost everything we do is touched by open-source," said Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python object-oriented programming language and an official at San Mateo, Calif.-based Elemental Security Inc. He added that while his company is trying to make money on software that is not open-source, part of the software will eventually become open-source.

BEA Systems Inc., meanwhile, is trying to woo developers over to its commercial WebLogic Server platform through its Beehive open-source tools project, which it donated to the Apache Software Foundation, according to Cliff Schmidt, director of open-source strategy at San Jose-based BEA.

Business models for young open-source companies remain unproven, said Deborah Magid, director of strategic alliances at IBM. She cited open-source companies such as JBoss Inc. and MySQL AB as vendors that have had some initial success. But "these are not companies that are driving big numbers of revenues right now," Magid noted.

Historically, a customer has needed to get support from the vendor that sold it the software, said Bob Bickel, vice president of business development at Atlanta-based JBoss. But "with open-source, you obviously have a different setup, because everybody's got access to the source," meaning multiple companies can provide support, he said.

JBoss sells support for its open-source application server, but competing companies can do the same. "What this will do is lower the amount of money that's actually in the software business," Bickel said.

Open-source projects have been about commoditization rather than complexity, argued Kevin Efrusy, a partner at venture capital firm Accel Partners in Palo Alto, Calif. "Frankly, [with] the open-source projects, there's been some innovation, but they're not as much about innovation as they are about commoditization and ubiquity," Efrusy said. He cited VMware Inc.'s virtualization software as an example of a product category that has not been available as open-source because of its complexity.

Magid said the most successful open-source projects have involved elements that are easily componentized. Something like a SAS Institute Inc. business intelligence offering wouldn't be likely to find its way into open-source, she said.

This story, "SDForum: Open-source a first option for more companies" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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