What's ahead for Linux, open source, if...

An IT futurist describes the impact that Linux and open source code could have if business users and the open source community play their hands well. Then, he names other technologies, such as 3G wireless, that will drive IT changes.

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Charles E. Bess, vice president at Fidelity's Center for Applied Technology

Open source software is off to a good start, but it won't revolutionize IT until the community gets serious about defining business frameworks and processes, says Charles E. Bess P.E. and EDS Fellow.

It's prediction time for Bess, and he opines on the future of Linux and open source in this interview. He also lists the hot new technologies that will shake up the IT world in 2006. As head futurist for EDS Corp., a global technology services company based in Plano, Tex., Bess studies the future implications of changes within the software industry.

What's your overall view of the future of Linux and open source?

Bess: I believe the concept of open source is a good start, but it will have significant business impact when it begins to address business frameworks and processes. When we can rapidly iterate around new business models and standard interfaces for generating business value, the community-based concept will move from a technology issue to a business-enablement issue.

Does open source present a change that's hard for people to absorb?

Bess: I believe that, in general, humans are innovators. We are always looking for new and different ways to do things.

Each individual, however, tolerates change differently. Not everyone or every organization will be able to make the shift from a commercial product professional manuals and help desks.

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The entire organization does not necessarily need to have [open source] skills. Just like with a commercial product, there are administrators and various personnel who act as a buffer between the user community and the vendor. When using open source solutions, there will need to be a very high-skilled interface with the open source community [who] hides that complexity from the rest of the organization.

What role will open source code play in accelerating change in the business IT landscape?

Bess: Open source allows for anyone who is willing to do the work to get deep knowledge of a particular solution or problem. They can understand it and then tweak it to their needs, addressing unique business problems. This degree of flexibility and understanding will enable organizations to move the ball forward and create business value, differentiating them. By definition, the people most familiar with open source activities need to be self-starters who initiate change.

In what ways can businesses use open source software as a competitive weapon?

Bess: Using community-based software can reduce an organization's dependence on individual technology providers, and some organizations value that level of independence. By having access to the source, they are not constrained by where the vendor wants to take the product and, therefore, can differentiate themselves from other users.

What is a must for IT organizations when choosing open source applications?

Bess: These new directions need to be supportable over the long term. One of the first rules of using commercial products should be: "Don't do anything that prevents you from taking the next release." [This] applies to open source as well.

Unless your organization is willing to go at it alone, the innovations and extensions created should align with the direction the open source community is taking. You may need to step up your involvement to see that it continues down that path. Having clearly defined interface points will improve the flexibility of keeping the maintenance costs low over the long term.

How does the emergence of open source software as a business IT option increase or decrease the predictability and simplicity of IT infrastructures?

Bess: When an organization starts down the open source route, they need to be sure they are willing to commit to greater depth of knowledge and different administrative costs. It is not a tactical decision, but a strategic one for the life of the installation. Some people think of open source as free, and that is too passive a word for what will be required.

Higher administrative costs will be offset by lower or even non-existent software licensing or software compliance costs. The personnel that understand the capabilities of open source solutions are playing at least as important a role as whatever vendor support they replaced for the organization. Even when an organization starts using open source in a big way, it should not be viewed as a de facto decision. Each new project [group] needs to do its own commercial versus open source decision and judge the solution on its merits for the given situation within the enterprise.

The make-versus-buy decision should be extended to determine if the resulting solutions should be released to the open source community as well. With some software, the licensing may actually require this to take place.

Besides Linux and open source, what other technologies will drive rapid IT innovation?

Bess: 3G wireless, integrated with geographic information supporting context-based attention management, will allow much greater control of who, where and how people are notified about events.

IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) networking [will bring] greater flexibility and capability in the networking space.

Model Driven Architecture techniques, on top of service-oriented techniques, will cause a rebirth of the business analyst function and allow for more tightly integrated use of software as a service.

Multi-core computing hardware and the use of hardware virtualization will move to a whole different dimension in 2006. It will allow for utility computing, or at least more effective use of the computing resources, freeing up funds from software and hardware maintenance that are going to support underutilized environments. It should also reduce operational costs, since virtualization techniques will automate many of the maintenance functions if done properly.

Simulation and pattern recognition will begin to enter the mainstream of business. Enhancing the ability to understand the context of the situation and allow for greater flexibility based upon facts"instead of supposition. It should also allow organizations to focus computers on "normal" activities,freeing up people to address unique situations, wring out greater value.

Greater application of intelligent agents [will distribute] computing out to the edge of the enterprise, providing more details and timely information.

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