Open source races to the top

Not only is open source producing the most exciting new software, it's creating a DMZ where big players can shape the future of enterprise tech

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On the Hadoop front, it's clearly a pitched battle between Cloudera and Hortonworks. The former has achieved the greatest commercial success with enterprises and employs as chief architect Doug Cutting, the brilliant technologist who started Hadoop while working for Yahoo. But Hortonworks, the Yahoo spin-off and true open source steward of the Apache 2 Hadoop project, has steadily gained more corporate customers -- in part through partnerships with Teradata, a traditional BI player, as well as Microsoft.

In the NoSQL realm, we have true examples of pure-play open source leadership. The open source favorites Cassandra, Couchbase, and MongoDB have emerged on top. 10gen founder Dwight Merriman started the MongoDB project because he saw the need for a new type of database for Web-scale projects while working at DoubleClick. CouchDB, the open source project that provided the core technology for Couchbase, was created by leaders of the BSD-licensed memcached project. The technology behind Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook, but the highly active Cassandra community has taken it further, while open source vendor DataStax has packaged Cassandra with Apache Hadoop and a pile of enterprise security features in its Enterprise version.

Community development

Every open source project has its own dynamic. When big vendors get involved -- as with OpenStack or the new OpenDaylight project -- you know the political infighting will be intense. But interesting things happen when a winner emerges. For example, developers often say that they love the convenience of PaaS, until they discover a missing or awkwardly implemented feature that makes their lives hell with no obvious workaround. If Cloud Foundry emerges as a dominant platform, you'll have a huge community making contributions to offer a more complete, viable solution to make that less likely to happen.

Instead of hashing out the future in endless standards committee meetings, we're hammering it out in open source bits.

Clearly, some projects are authentically grassroots -- Mozilla Firefox, still listed as the most popular project on Ohloh, provides a shining example. Then there are grassroots projects created in reaction to bad vendor behavior, such as LibreOffice or MariaDB (or Linux, for that matter). Others, such as Google Android or Chromium, are firmly under a single corporation's wing. Ultimately, it's hard to get away from the fact that in high-profile projects, the most active committers tend to be employed by a commercial vendor with a specific agenda. Nonetheless, continuous involvement by a broader community yields better software.

This year, for the first time, respondents to the annual Future of Open Source Survey chose "better software quality" as the No. 1 reason for adopting open source. Sounds like the word is getting around.

This article, "Open source races to the top," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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