The state of open source: Evolving trends

Roundtable: 11 leaders from the open source and vendor communities discuss the current open source climate and outline the challenges and opportunities ahead

Question No. 2: Where do you see open source heading in the next five years, especially with regard to development, community, and market opportunities?


Matt Asay

Vice president of business development

Asay: We have demonstrated that it's possible to kick-start successful open source projects with venture capital. As such, I believe we'll see a real flowering of commercial open source projects with significant competition within markets. We're seeing this today in the IT management market, with Hyperic, GroundWork, Zenoss, and others competing aggressively for market share. In the enterprise content management market, Alfresco finally got a real peer in Acquia. This is good and indicates that the best is yet to come in commercial open source.

I also believe we're going to see the proliferation of projects like Eclipse, Linux, and Firefox -- projects that command significant commercial investment, simultaneously serving as hubs for competition and collaboration. As such projects flourish, we'll see greater innovation because each individual market participant won't have to reinvent the wheel and will instead innovate around the edges of communal projects.


Bruce Perens
Creator of the Open Source Definition
Co-founder of the Open Source Initiative

Perens: I think that most reporters are misreading the economics of open source, and I hope that changes. You see a lot of publicity for companies that put open source in a profit center, like MySQL. But for most companies, open source is operated in an IT cost center. Many open source developers are paid these days, but the majority are actually working for customer, not vendor, organizations. For those companies, open source is a way to distribute the cost and risk of developing non-business-differentiating software that they need to support their own operations, but which isn't particularly visible to their customers. Those folks are interesting because they don't have the problems with sustainability or conflict of interest that the open source vendors can have.

So, I think the currently underreported and future trend is the shift of the development of non-business-differentiating software within companies to open source. Consider that if you are an IT manager, you can directly help your company's bottom line if you move as much money as possible to developing the software that is customer-visible and provides your company with a business differentiator against its competitors. But where do you get the other 95 percent of the software in most companies, which isn't business-differentiating? You participate in open source communities to build it, and thus spread out the cost and risk with your partners in those communities. You can share the development with them without hurting your company, because the software isn't business-differentiating.


Javier Soltero

Soltero:I've always believed that open source will soon become the "price for entry" for any emerging software vendor and an increasingly attractive alternative for mature vendors with the guts to embrace it. The reason for this is based on the "historical baggage" of how commercial software vendors have treated their customers in the past. Expensive, up-front costs coupled with business models where the vendor held most of the cards and could bank on a good salesman to close the deal. Customers are educated into the art of procuring software and are demanding a process that starts and ends with them in control. Open source affords this by allowing those customers to evaluate and consume software under their own terms and engage with the vendor around the points of value that are clear to them. This trend depends on the creation of a community of users -- who can otherwise be regarded as empowered prospects -- who participate in the use, development, and refinement of a product.

In less than 5 years, in fact, starting even in 2008, vendors will not be able to bank their futures solely on them being "open source" and instead will have to use the benefits described above to drive the same degree of innovation that powered the first 25 years of the commercial software industry.


Robert Sutor
Vice president of open source and standards

Sutor: I've been talking to a lot of people lately who were relatively early adopters of open source in customer environments but who are now looking to start new projects with their peers in their industries. When this next wave of people come in, it may unsettle some of the earlier understandings of expectations and "how things are supposed to work." Everyone will just need to adjust. I think the area of open source organizational governance will become very hot in the next few years. What are your policies on open source entering or leaving your organization? How do you deal with open source in the products that you create or that you OEM from other people? How do you do this efficiently across all your business units so that you avoid unnecessary conflicts yet drive the whole business forward? Who decides?


Andy Astor

Astor: First of all, much greater transparency is where I see us heading. In the early days of commerical open source, people would say "commerical open source," with a smile and a wink -- meaning that they were using open source as a way to get people to pay attention to them. The marketplace stood for that for about a year or two. I think that time is over. OSI's definition of open source will rule. And if it's not an OSI-approved license, it won't be able to be called "open source." Fundamentally, we will see more maturity and transparency in the way people think and talk about open source.


Mark Spencer
Founder and CTO

Spencer: The value of open source technology is widely recognized today. Even Microsoft has taken notice and built and is promoting their open source interoperability lab. Open source is a technology and licensing model that is here to stay and grow. Open source projects tend to start by focusing on highly technical interest groups (such as compilers and system libraries, which are focused at software developers). As adaptation of the open source projects grow broader, more products appear addressing a less technical audience, such as Open Office and "The Gimp," Ubuntu, and others have done. In fact, I personally view Open Office as one of the most critical open source software packages because it is the key to transitioning users and enterprises away from Microsoft Office and thus enables users to switch to Linux. Today, we are at the knee of the curve on this movement.


Sam Ramji
Senior director of platform technology

Ramji: As a development model, I think that five years from now open source will be like “object orientation” or “extreme programming” -- a once controversial and transformative idea that has found its way into how most people build software. I hope that we’ll find ways to consistently reward developers of open source with the fame or revenue that help them continue their work. At the heart of development is a love for problem solving and helping users -- and this focus is often at odds with figuring out business plans and asking for what you deserve. Ideally we’d have a small number of well-known, federated marketplaces for open source applications that can connect these dots worldwide. Information technology has transformed the U.S. economy, and I’m personally grateful that it’s the industry I’ve landed in. I’d like to see a marketplace environment enable developers in emerging markets to transform their lives by making their innovation broadly available and appropriately compensated.

As for market opportunities, the strength of open source development -- diversity -- is also a challenge when it comes to skills availability, consistency of user experience, and manageability. I would expect to see some standards emerge in these areas, or else to see new offerings that focus on integrating existing open source technologies in these three dimensions.


Chris DiBona
Open source programs manager

DiBona: Development: I see more interesting work happening in the Web toolkit/CMS space than in more tested and mature technologies like kernels and the like.

Community: I think that the community that matters most to me, that of the developers, is in a healthy state, growing slowly, without a lot of sturm und drang. That said, we'll see the regular ebb and flow of applications and projects, especially in the CMS space. For instance, I think that Drupal will be a dominant force for some time, but other CMSes might ebb a bit.

Market: Hmm, I think that Android will heavily influence embedded Linux upon its full release later this year. I also think that the "market" is contracting a little bit right now.


Eric S. Raymond
Programmer, author, and
open source software advocate

Raymond: That's really too general a question to answer. It's too much like asking "Where do you see electricity going in the next five years?"


Dave Rosenberg
CEO and co-founder

Rosenberg: We’ve already seen the open source development model applied to areas far beyond software. We’ve also seen proprietary companies adopt similar development and distribution tactics to get closer to the user base.

I expect wide-scale adoption of open source in mission-critical applications as open source products continue to mature. I also expect the market opportunities to increase as we see more “closed” companies start to move further into open standards and development models.

Open source is no longer a matter of “if” but instead, a matter of “when.”


Zack Urlocker
Vice president of products

Urlocker: I think there's nothing but growth. Open source is an unstoppable force. We'll look back in 10 years and consider closed-source software to have been a weird anomaly. "You mean you paid millions for software without knowing if it would work?"

Young folks starting their careers in IT are already experts in open source; they've been using it for most of their college life. For managers and older developers, I think these are important skills to have. Just like you couldn't get ahead in the late 1990s without Web development experience, I think we're going to see the same trend around open source. These will be the necessary technical skills for career development.

We'll see more and more adoption of open source. The barriers to adoption are so small that it doesn't really make sense to launch new companies without using this approach. I think we'll also see huge growth in software-as-a-service and on-demand applications fueled by open source.

[ Roundtable home | Topic No. 3: The cost of commercialization ]

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.