People think that open source begins and ends with Linux. They don't recognize that there are tens of thousands of open source products available. In fact, there are more than 80,000 open source projects available for download at SourceForge. There were about 70,000 less than a year ago.
Beyond that, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and doubt being fueled by certain players in the market. That fear and doubt needs to be buried by more stories getting out about businesses that are successfully using open source software. The unique thing about the open source world is so much of it can be downloaded anonymously. Executives think that other businesses -– their competitors, specifically -- aren't using open source software in production. They're wrong. It is more widely used than people really know. What are some qualities of a mature open source project?
There are many. Here are a few important ones:
- A full set of enterprise-level features that have the functionality needed for real-world business usage;
- Low failure rates, or high quality;
- A robust foundation so that errors don't automatically cause failures;
- Ease of administration, which translates to ease of monitoring, management and configuration;
- And, of course, support.
Speaking of support, when you buy a commercial product, you assume that it will come with a support agreement. In the open source world, support is often not part of the deliverable. If you are a CIO or an IT manager, you have to do a lot of research and testing. You have to look at trouble reports filed by users and test for quality. You have to look for commercial support offerings or a dependable consultant for that product.
For most products, the open source community offers online documentation and many high-quality support options that work very well. You can contact the developers directly and ask them questions. I have used open source support during implementations, posting questions to a development team and mailing list and getting responses in 20 minutes or less. Also, an open source software user has access to the source and can actually do fixes. Are there any things that come up in open source product implementation that might not come up with commercial products?
Yes, there are often more integration challenges. The open source product has to fit into an existing software stack. Nothing operates in isolation. Until recently, commercial support for integrating products hasn't been available with open source. It's becoming a bit more common as commercial vendors release some products to open source and partner with open source developers and more support organizations are created for Linux and OSS.
Recently, some major vendors have put their stamp of approval on other open source products that live further up the software stack. HP recently announced its support for the open source relational database MySQL. HP and Computer Associates will support JBoss, the open source J2EE engine. Your IT shop should be sure to check out whether your company's commercial software vendors endorse the open source products under consideration for your enterprise.
Just be aware integration with other products can still be a problem. Some open source developers have thought it through and provide integration support. Some haven't.
Within two years, any software selection process for enterprise environments will include this question: Is there be an open source alternative? Many more businesses are going to be using open source software. They'll use it because their IT organizations recommend it. They'll use it because their competitors are using it, and their competitors will have lower cost operations and put price pressures on. Also, they or their competitors are trying Linux and having good experiences with it now. They are or will be asking: 'What can I do next with Linux and open source?'
There are two trends that I see happening right now. First of all, companies are beginning to use open source as part of their business model, asking: 'How can I take advantage of open source as a less costly way to build my business?' Secondly, software vendors are taking one piece of a particular proprietary product and making it open source.
I think that software vendors are looking at open source as a way to revitalize their products. There have been a couple of examples of that in the last couple of weeks: Sun plans to open source Solaris, and CA has made Ingres open source. What are some of the most interesting enterprise-ready open source application suites around today?
There are many, and here's a short list. Compiere is an ERP application suite and the most integrated open source ERP package that I've seen. It's being used around the world as a foundation project for other open source projects that extend its functionality. Last I heard, there have been 700,000 downloads. Compiere was developed by a commercial company, ComPiere, which offers services and training. Compiere said its CRM product is for companies with up to $200 million in revenue.
SugarCRM is now offering open source CRM [customer relationship management] software. The founders come from commercial CRM vendors, and they've created a services business based on free distribution of CRM software. CRM software implementations usually require significant customization and integration. So, I see a lot of potential in SugarCRM's model of bypassing the license opportunities in order to focus on service revenues.
On the high end is Plone, a content management application suite that's designed for managing Web content. It's build on the free Zope application server.
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