An open source veteran, David Uhlman has lived and breathed the market from server appliances to financial processing. Now, he's CEO of open source software company Uversa Inc., and Uhlman spoke at the Linux Desktop Summit in San Diego about what he considers to be the top 50 open source business applications. He sat down with SearchOpenSource.com's MiMi Yeh to talk about why IT managers should be on the lookout for MySQL, why macro support in OpenOffice doesn't matter, and what proprietary applications are ripe to switch to open source alternatives.
What applications do you see as enterprise-ready?
David Uhlman: There are many different parts to it and there are numerous pre-conceived notions about what is or is not ready, as well as what 'ready' even means. When it comes to businesses that make less than $50 million, there is not a lot concern. Everything is covered from end to end.
Accounting might be the weakest point, but there are definitely open source solutions that exist today. As you start getting higher up into the more traditional $50 million to $250 million medium-sized enterprises, it is more difficult to find enterprise-ready applications because many regulatory issues are not addressed in open source software. There are not that many different pieces. Some applications, like Compiere have experience working with organizations of that size.
Above that level, there isn't anyone working, and it is going to take a lot of working up the ladder to get to the $500 million companies. Even just the public company barrier can be a lot because of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act [accounting-oversight regulations]. Your average open source developer will not have a great deal of understanding of and compliance with regulations when implementing software.
One way enterprise companies can begin to take advantage of open source is by using some of the basic desktop applications. For example, OpenOffice is really more beneficial with a better feature set than Microsoft Office. It offers native pdf support and ties into custom applications or databases more easily than if you were running Office and at very little cost.
What about the common complaint that OpenOffice's Base tool can't support macros the way Office's Excel tool can?
Uhlman: It's always a problem with any of those programs. I think that, overwhelmingly, most people don't use too many macros. Today, I've had the same level of compatibility with OpenOffice as I have ever had with the 10 different versions of Office.
Which applications do you think are making the most headway in the enterprise?
Uhlman: I think Firefox is an application that people are considering over Internet Explorer because of the security problems they've had with [it]. Thunderbird and a few other types of e-mail have had a big impact in reducing the viral problems and maintenance headaches that organizations can deal with.
For [someone who uses the Web, e-mail and office software], Linux as a desktop is making inroads into many organizations, especially with what Novell and Red Hat have been doing to work with enterprise companies that have traditionally been Windows-based.
Which applications offer the best not-to-be-missed opportunities for enterprises?
Uhlman: MySQL [has had] the biggest impact from a financial and performance standpoint that people don't consider. So much of enterprise organizations are tied up in databases of contacts. MySQL offers a jump down from Oracle or DB2. It can do very nearly all the things they can do. There are many people who will argue that point, but in practice that's how it was.
Which vertical industries are jumping onto the open source software bandwagon first? Which ones are catching on?
Uhlman: I think there's really a set of industries. I'm going to single out one because [Uversa is] so involved -- and that's medicine. With our ClearHealth product, we've had enormous success in touching upon a huge market of very dissatisfied customers. These are people who've been broadly mistreated by proprietary software out there and are really looking for an alternative that gives them more control and a long-term platform that they can build healthcare around.
You're seeing the same thing in a lot of traditionally old industries that are just moving to technology now, such as construction. Most of these companies still use an entirely paper process where fax machines are the epitome of those offices. They're just realizing now that to keep going and stay with demand, they need to jump to something technology-based. Open source is a different option for them than for a lot of people because they don't have an existing infrastructure to convert. They get to start from scratch, so it offers a lot of appeal when you're in that kind of decision-making process.
The fear about open source at this point is becoming less and less justified in that there have been a large number of large companies that have successfully employed it. For large companies like Yahoo, every day more and more of what they do is based on open source software. It's been a key strategic point for them instead of some dead haul they have to bring along.
What do you think of Linspire's announcement about Freespire?
Uhlman: I think there are a lot of barriers outside of software, so it's a good forward step. Until you get buy-ins from top-tier OEMs in the shipping of Linux, it's not going to make too much of an impact directly. At the same time, the other big impact will be from large Fortune 5,000 company adoptions. It's kind of a trickle-down and bottom-up scenario. Whenever the day comes where Linux ships as a default on desktops you buy from Dell or HP, you'll see massive adoption.
Ford and a few other companies have familiarized people with Linux, so that also helps. It's an important step, but it's not quite as dramatic as some of the other things that have happened recently.
See part two of this interview here.