After two years of writing this column, one theme in the feedback I receive from readers stands out. Regardless of what I write, I get at least a few e-mails saying, "You're short-changing open source." In my day-to-day IT reality, open source technologies play a central role: infoworld.com runs Linux/Apache, I use MySQL inside and outside of work for fun, and I keep up with less-hyped but mature technologies such as FreeBSD and PostgresSQL. I've been a Linux user since 1994. All that aside, what really interests me about these e-mails is the notion that the open source community continues to see itself as the Cinderella held back by an assortment of wicked stepmothers, principally Microsoft. From my vantage point, the opposite is true. Open source is the belle of the ball. The open source pumpkin has changed into a carriage and Cinderella is dancing with Prince Charming -- but the night is still young.
The real issue for open source is adjusting from being remarkable to being important. There's a real distinction between the two. Remember when cell phones were new? Your first call was probably to a friend to say, "Hey, guess what! I'm on a cell phone." If you called your friend today with the same message, chances are your friend would ask, "Are you feeling OK?" Open source advocates should be pleased that many open source technologies (Linux, MySQL, Apache) are so entrenched in the enterprise (that is, important), and that their presence is similarly unremarkable. If you're not hearing about open source all the time, it's probably because IT folks are too busy using open source tools. My staff is more interested in where I'm taking them to lunch these days -- the open source stuff just runs quietly in the background.
Linux is the obvious example of open source success, and it's doing even better than you might think. In a report released in February, IDC projected annual growth from 2003 to 2006 in the share of Linux server shipments worldwide versus servers shipped with other operating systems, all of which projected declines during the same period. IDC projects that the Linux server shipment share will be larger than Unix for the first time in 2003 at 16 percent versus 14 percent. By 2006, that mix will be 25 percent Linux versus 11 percent Unix.
With Linux clearly gaining broad acceptance, the open source database layer is ascendant -- watch out for MySQL in the enterprise. In an interview with InfoWorld, MySQL AB CEO Marten Mickos pointed to Mobile.de, Germany's largest broker of used cars and a company that does 60 million transactions a month using MySQL -- that's serious. In March, MetaGroup advised: "Although previously perceived as a nonfactor through the end of this decade, we now believe open source databases will begin to show significant usage (i.e., 3 percent to 5 percent) within corporate datacenters by 2006."
Linux, it looks like MySQL has the next dance.