Why we still love open source

Open source is the medium of choice for the world's most creative developers, as shown by InfoWorld's 2011 Best of Open Source Software Awards

It's easy to make the argument that open source ain't what it used to be. In the essay accompanying this year's Bossie (Best of Open Source Software) Awards, InfoWorld contributing editor Peter Wayner nails it: Aggressive patent and copyright enforcement are inflicting damage on real openness and community-driven software development. And in desperate pursuit of revenue, both independent ISVs and big software players can make it hard to distinguish between demo versions and open source distributions.

So why do we still love open source? Because, more than ever, it's the epicenter of software innovation.

[ Take a stroll through InfoWorld's 2011 Bossie Awards to find the best open source software. | Also on InfoWorld: The greatest open source software of all time | Follow the latest open source developments with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

Just take a look at this year's Bossie Award winners, beginning with Android. We gave Android a Bossie this year despite the proviso that hardware manufacturers get Google's approval first before they use the Android brand. After all, Android source code is available under an Apache license, and we can only hope Google fends off legal challenges from Oracle and, potentially, Apple. If you ask me, only an open platform can foster the kind of inventive mindstorm that swirls around Android, from dozens of tablets to hundreds of thousands of apps.

On the app dev side, open source has dominated for years. The hot scripting languages and the Eclipse IDE are all open source, of course, as is Git, the phenomenally popular version control system that won a Bossie for the third time this year. But the innovation keeps coming. The trendy JavaScript framework Node.js, which opens up server-side programming to hordes of client-side code slingers, earned its first Bossie this year. And although it was too late for Bossie consideration, keep your eye on Opa, the new open source language that InfoWorld's Neil McAllister believes may transform Web development.

Is there any area of technology more exciting than big data? For the third year in a row we awarded a Bossie to Apache Hadoop, the distributed processing framework for unstructured data. And based on our recent comparative review of NoSQL databases, we handed MongoDB the Bossie.

Open source is even providing solutions for IT's most pressing problem of all: the urgent imperative to increase data center efficiency, agility, and cost effectiveness. Today's imperative, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, is "modernize or else" -- and private cloud software promises a means to that end. We punted and gave both Eucalyptus and OpenStack the Bossie since both private cloud projects are in their early stages and have high potential to assist IT in managing shared resources.

Finally, a word about LibreOffice: No, an office suite can't be called cutting edge. But LibreOffice, a spin-off project created in reaction to Oracle's ham-fisted attempt to squeeze revenue from OpenOffice customers, rejuvenated the whole OpenOffice endeavor. The improved usability and performance over OpenOffice led us to give LibreOffice a Bossie. Perhaps more important, the LibreOffice rebellion ended up persuading Oracle to hand the OpenOffice code base over to the Apache Foundation.

The power of open source to change the game lives on. And from a practical perspective, without a massive marketing budget, how does an insurgent startup unseat entrenched software players without "giving away" a hot new solution and figuring out how to make money later? The industry is littered with open source software companies that failed in that endeavor. But in many cases the code they produced lives on, and, for the foreseeable future, the best and the brightest developers will continue to debut their efforts under the open source banner.

This article, "Why we still love open source," 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.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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