Much of what we will see in the long term is already here. Keep your eye on these trends and see how they develop in the next few years:
As open source software (OSS) is increasingly capable of being substituted for proprietary software, we see prices dropping (Oracle, in the face of MySQL and PostgreSQL, for example). Microsoft is segmenting its operating systems in order to have a low-priced product in their lineup. Prices for software can also be lowered by keeping the support component separate. Users today don't expect much, if any, free support for the products they buy. Faced with lowered software prices, vendors are eager to sell support packages.
As it becomes easier to substitute one product for another, customers can change vendors more easily. Open source software tends to use open standards, which makes switching applications simpler because the data is not locked in a particular application.
Thanks to Linux (and an Apple reinvigorated with a BSD foundation), users have more choices regarding the platforms they use. Application developers are increasingly writing their applications for more than one platform. The more choice the customer has, the greater the pressure to keep prices down and to offer more benefits.
By keeping their software on their own servers, vendors can greatly simplify their support problems and also avoid having to write for several platforms. Customers who arrive at these servers frequently do so via a Web browser. The writing of an open source browser by the Mozilla project enabled users to have more choice among browsers. We now have the Opera browser (proprietary) running on Windows, Mac and Linux; Firefox running on Windows, Mac and Linux; and Internet Explorer, running on Windows and Mac.
Open source has been a great force behind the virtualization trend. IBM used its virtualization expertise to enable its mainframes to run Linux, part of their strategy to have a single OS for all sizes of their equipment. Not only can many servers be run on a single piece of equipment, a mainframe can devote a large portion of its processing power to running order-taking/fulfilling servers during the day. Then, that server can turn most of itself back into a mainframe at night for heavy-duty database/bookkeeping duties, while also keeping a few servers running.
Virtualization on smaller machines came into demand when the increased use of Linux created a need for a way to run both Windows and Linux on a single machine. Other benefits included being able to prototype networks on a single machine, particularly those connecting machines using different operating systems.
Open source developers were pioneers in the technique of ganging small machines together to emulate the processing power of a mainframe.
These got off to a bad start because networks, servers and applications didn't have the power to keep remote users happy. SaaS is a form of thin-client computing, and some companies will find it easier to manage and support their employees' desktops remotely.
All of the trends above listed above received a heavy push from open source development and requirements, and none have reached their limits yet.
This was first published in September 2006