The open source default

Despite turmoil in the open source community, open source has become the mainstream choice for enterprises

A funny thing happened to open source in 2009. In a year when the viability of open source business models came into question, and the debate over what is or isn't open source software got messier, open source became the dominant software paradigm.

Yes, as Ashlee Vance famously noted in the New York Times last November, few open source pure plays besides Red Hat are making serious money. Even acquisitions of independent open source companies slowed, with many smaller plays simply falling into obscurity. But that doesn't change the fact that open source software is taking the lead in a number of categories, with big guys like Google and IBM using it as a wedge to dislodge commercial software competitors.

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For starters, check out this year's InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards. Open source dominated application development. The Eclipse IDE has become a monster platform for a swarm of add-ons and has moved beyond Java to support a host of other languages, including C++, PHP, Python, Ruby, and JavaScript. For mobile app dev, the WebKit project supports not just the Palm Pre, but also Android and the iPhone, so that the same WebKit-developed app can run across all three mobile platforms.

And then there's the game-changing Hadoop, the Apache project based on Google MapReduce that enables developers to create applications that run HPC-class jobs on commodity hardware -- either locally or in the cloud.

Speaking of the cloud, Google's open source Chrome 3.0 browser won top honors in InfoWorld's Technology of the Year, thanks to its innovative security model and blazing JavaScript performance. According to a study by Net Applications, Chrome's market share rose from 1.5 percent to 4 percent in 2009, while that other open source browser, Firefox, came within a whisker of grabbing a quarter of the market. The Google attack of last December, and subsequent recommendations by the French and German governments to dump IE, may accelerate the march toward IE's open source competitors.

Google, of course, has been highly adept in using open source as a weapon in its own march to world domination. The blog post written by Google senior vice president of product management Jonathan Rosenberg, "The meaning of open," has become a kind of open source rallying cry as well as a brilliant piece of marketing, with Rosenberg providing a philosophical wrapper around the company's commitment to Apache 2.0 licensing for its four projects: Chrome, Android, Chrome OS, and Google Web Toolkit.

We all know Microsoft has been making noises about interoperability with Linux ever since it announced its deal with Novell some years back. But last November it felt compelled to take another step and announced that the 4.0 version of the .Net Micro Framework (mainly for embedded systems) would be available under the Apache 2.0 license. And in December, after it became clear that open source code was in a Windows 7 installer, Microsoft quickly announced that the installer would be available under GPL.

There are many more examples of open source ascendancy than I can cite here. Even adopted Drupal as its content management system. (And do I really need to mention that the whole EU mess over Oracle's acquisition of Sun is about ensuring that MySQL stays a viable alternative?) Clearly this has been a banner year, despite the grinding forces of the Great Recession that pushed many open source startups to the edge of disaster. I'm betting we'll have a lively Open Source Business Conference this year.

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