Best of Open Source Awards 2013

Bossies 2013: The Best of Open Source Software Awards

This year, the annual Bossie Awards recognize 120 of the best open source software for data centers and clouds, desktops and mobile devices, developers and IT pros

Best of Open Source Awards 2013

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What do a McLaren Supercar, a refrigerator, a camera, a washing machine, and a cellphone have to do with open source? They're all examples of how a good pile of code can take on a new life when it's set free with an open source license.

The same forces are turned loose in every corner of business computing, from application development and big data analytics to the software that runs our desktops, data centers, and clouds. This year's edition of our annual Best of Open Source Software Awards rounds up more than 120 top projects in seven categories:

When the Android developers started releasing their operating system in 2007, they just wanted to colonize the world of mobile phones. The iPhone was incredibly popular, and attracting any attention was a challenge. Choosing an open source license was an easy path to partnerships with the phone manufacturers around the world. After all, giving people something free is an easy way to make friends.

In 2013, something unexpected happened: The camera engineers noticed the explosion of creative new software apps for taking photographs with mobile phones. Someone asked, "What if we put Android on our camera?" Now Android cameras with better lenses can leverage the fertile software ecosystem of Android apps.

This is the way that open source software is supposed to work. Developers share, and software proliferates. Is it any surprise that the folks at Samsung are now making an Android refrigerator? Or an Android clothes washer? Or an Android watch? Or that McLaren, the maker of overjuiced cars, wants the radio in its car to run Android? Will there be Android in our doorbells, our cats, and our sofas? Only time and the programmers know. The source code is out there and anyone can install it.

As in years past, this year's collection of Bossie Award winners celebrates this tradition of sharing and cross-fertilization. The open source software ecosystem continues to flourish and grow as old projects continue to snowball while new projects emerge to tackle new needs.

The most successful projects, like Android, are finding new homes in unexpected places, and there seem to be more unexpected places than ever.

 Throughout the Web and the enterprise, open source is less and less the exception and more and more the rule. It's in the server stacks, it's on the desktop, and it's a big, big part of the mobile ecology.

The server stack is growing increasingly open. Much of the software for maintaining our collection of servers is now largely open source thanks to the proliferation of Linux, but the operating system is just the beginning. Almost everything built on top of -- or below -- the operating system is also available as an open source package.

OpenStack is a collection of open source packages that let you build a cloud that rivals Amazon's. If you want your cloud to work the same way Amazon's does, using the same scripts and commands, open source offers that too: Eucalyptus. The cloud companies are using open source's flexibility as a way to lure people into their infrastructures. If things don't work out and you want to leave, open source presumably provides the exit. As Eucalyptus is to Amazon, an OpenStack cloud in your data center should behave like the OpenStack clouds run by Rackspace and HP by answering to the same commands.

The Bossie Awards also focus on an increasingly important layer, the one that keeps all of these machines in the cloud in line. Orchestration tools such as Puppet, Chef, and Salt serve the needs of the harried sys admins who must organize the various servers by making sure they're running the right combination of software, patches, libraries, and extensions. These tools ensure the code will be the right versions, the services will be initialized, and everything will start and stop as it's supposed to do. They automate the tasks that keep the entire cloud in harmony.

Once the machines are configured, another popular layer for the enterprise gets the servers working together on answers to big questions. The cloud is not just for databases and Web serving because more and more complex analytical work is being done by clusters of machines that get spun up to handle big mathematical jobs. Hadoop is a buzzword that refers to both the core software for running massively parallel jobs and the constellation of fat packages that help Hadoop find the answers. Most of these companions are open source too, and a number of them made the list for our awards.

These tools for big data are often closely aligned with the world of NoSQL data stores that offer lightweight storage for extremely large data sets. This next generation of data storage is dominated by open source offerings, and we've recognized several that grew more sophisticated, more stable, and more essential this year. The information for the increasingly social and networked Internet is stored in open source tools.

By the way, the past roles for open source aren't forgotten -- they've simply begun to morph. Some of the awards go to a core of old-fashioned tools that continue to grow more robust. Python, Ruby, WordPress, and the old standard OpenOffice (in a freshly minted version 4) are better and stronger than ever. Firefox -- both the browser and the operating system -- received Bossies, illustrating the enduring strength of the openness of HTML and the World Wide Web.

Some of these new roles are surprising. One of HTML's close cousins or partners in crime, JavaScript, is continuing its bold rush to colonize the server. Node.js, a clever hack designed to repurpose the V8 JavaScript engine by bringing it to the server, is now a flourishing ecosystem of its own. The raw speed of the tool has attracted an explosion of attention, and developers have shared thousands of modules that revise and extend the core server.

What is notable is that many of the newest open source tools are already on the front lines in enterprise shops. The open source ethic began in the labs, where it continues to serve an important role, aligning groups in pre-competitive areas and allowing them to work together without worrying about ownership. A number of important areas of research are advancing through open source blocks of code, and our list of winners includes several projects for studying social networks (Gephi, Neo4j, Giraph, Hama) and constructing statistical models of data (Drill).

Throughout this long list, there continues to be a healthy competition between the different licenses. The most generous and least encumbering options such as the MIT and BSD licenses are generally applied to the tools built by researchers who often aren't ready to commercialize their work. The more polished, productlike tools backed by professional programmers are increasingly being released under tighter rules that force more disclosure. Use of the GPL 3.0 and the AGPL is growing more common as companies look to push more sharing on those who benefit from open source.

Openly commercial
The companies behind open source projects are also becoming more adept at creating tools that exert control and dominance. Many who are drawn into by the lure of open source quickly discover that not everything is as free as it seems. While the code continues to be shared openly, companies often hold something back. Some charge for documentation, others charge for privacy, but all of the successful companies have some secret sauce they use to ensure their role.

Google, for instance, is increasingly flexing its muscle to exert more control by pushing more features into the ubiquitous Play Services. The Android operating system may be free and available under the generous BSD license, but more and more features are appearing in the Play Services layer that's hidden away. The phone companies can customize and enhance the Android layer all they want, but Google maintains control over the Play Services.

This has some advantages. Some developers of Android apps complain about the "matrix of pain," a term that refers to the impossibly wide range of Android devices on the market. Any app that they build should be tested against all of the phones and tablets, both small and large. The Play Services offer some stability in this sea of confusion. 

This stability is more and more common in the professional stack as the companies behind the projects find ways to sustain the development. When the software is powering the servers and the apps that power the business, that's what the enterprise customers demand. When the software is running on cars, refrigerators, washing machines, and even mobile phones, that's what the rest of the world needs too.

This article, "Bossies 2013: The Best of Open Source Software Awards," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.