A couple of years ago things were looking pretty desolate for open source. Independent players were struggling with open source revenue models that relied solely on paid support. More important, outside of app dev, the excitement that once swirled around open source seemed in short supply.
Fast-forward to InfoWorld's 2012 Best of Open Source Software awards (aka the Bossies) and you'll see how dramatically things have changed. Open source is playing a leadership role across many categories -- not only in app dev, but also in big data, the private cloud, and NoSQL databases. The old saw of "open source doesn't innovate" has been retired forever.
[ Dive into the Bossies -- check out InfoWorld's picks for the best open source applications, the best open source application development tools, and more. | Track the latest trends in open source with InfoWorld's Open Sources blog and Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]
Take the explosion in open source databases. You can't get much hotter than MongoDB, the document database from 10gen, which wins a Bossie for the second year in a row. Not far behind is Couchbase, which InfoWorld's Andrew Oliver calls "a great choice for an operational data store." Then there's Neo4J, Riak, and Redis, all three of which are starting to get the respect they deserve for serious applications.
Another highlight: open source private cloud software and other offerings intended to take IT automation to the next level. I've written quite a bit about the first award winner in this category, OpenStack, which calls itself an "open source cloud operating system." It's a unique project with a grand vision of unified management for virtualized data center resources -- but there are other exciting projects to call out, including Citrix's CloudStack, Google's Ganeti, and the venture that popularized the idea of "privatizing" the cloud, Eucalyptus.
On a related note, Open vSwitch, an open source distributed virtual switch, is helping lead us into the era of the software-defined data center (and helped VMware decide to pay a whopping $1.2 billion for network virtualization startup Nicira, which contributed Open vSwitch to the community). Puppet and Chef have humbler but perhaps more immediately useful aims: scripting environments for powerful configuration management.
Finally, allow me to direct your attention to a new feature of the Bossies: the fun and games section. Here you'll find OpenRemote, which allows programmer hobbyists to develop touch-driven control panels for home automation. Not to mention a bunch of open source games, including the 0 A.D. strategy game and Stella, an emulator for the classic Atari 2600 games. My personal favorite (maybe because I have a 13-year-old kid) is Arduino, an open source computer with all sorts of add-on modules -- now selling at RadioShack, no less -- that you can use for various amateur automation tasks.
Some pundits, including InfoWorld's Open Sources blogger Simon Phipps, believe the open source model will ultimately triumph over every corner of the industry. That may be a little extreme. But there's no doubting that if you're looking for the prime mover in an earthshaking software trend, you'll probably find an open source project at the epicenter.
This article, "Open source in 2012: Bigger and better than ever," 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.