Adopting Open Source Software

By Messman, Jack | Chief Executive (U.S.), December 2004 | Go to article overview

Adopting Open Source Software


Messman, Jack, Chief Executive (U.S.)


The Linux wave is cresting-and it will change everything.

The vast majority of American CEOs have long accepted monopoly control over the software their companies use, something they would never tolerate elsewhere in their businesses. But 2005 is going to be the year when that finally changes. Why? Because viable opensource software based on Linux is now becoming widely available to corporate users, both at the server and the desktop level. Choice is returning to information technology. CEOs need to understand this so they can free their chief information officers from Microsoft's grip.

Most CEOs have regarded Linux with suspicion, because it has the whiff of a guerrilla army, which it is. Linux is the bust-known success of the open-source community, a loose association of roughly 1 million programmers all over the world who believe in choice. They provide their programming expertise, which adds up to over a decade of experience on average, free of charge.

Anyone with an Internet connection can download Linux. But users have to be sophisticated enough to install and administer this software, which is not an easy task. And CEOs have always wanted to know, "Who do I call in the middle of the night if something breaks?" Until recently, there hasn't been a compelling answer.

Now there is. Leading industry vendors such as Novell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and others have devoted significant resources to creating certainty and predictability around the constant motion that characterized the open source movement. How? In a nutshell, by making open source look and feel like something customers already know.

Early this year, Novell acquired one of the top commercial Linux distributions, SUSE LINUX. A Linux distribution is a combination of the Linux kernel-developed and maintained by an open-source group led by Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux-plus supplemental opensource packages on top of that kernel to deliver various services for customers. These range from Web browsing to management tools to multimedia features and more.

What Novell does is take several thousand open-source packages and assemble them into a usable whole. We make sure the programs are compatible and that there are no issues with intellectual property protection. We make sure the distribution works on all the leading enterprise hardware platforms from IBM, Dell, HP and Sun, and on leading chips from Intel and AMD. Then we maintain that resulting code for a five-year period, delivering patches and updates. Enterprises need this stability to plan. Finally, we provide the support and training you'd expect of any serious enterprise software offering.

We make money by doing this, to be sure, because we are providing a service. That's the business model for open source. But the net result is software for the corporation that, because there's no license fee, is much cheaper than what the dominant market player offers. Plus it's secure, it's supported and it's reliable. And you can run your applications-Oracle, SAP and more-on it.

Because it's open, with the code visible to all, Linux also gives customers more flexibility to solve one of the corporate sector's biggest nightmares: integrating different pieces of an enterprise that don't function well together. Any enterprise of significant size has built up a hodgepodge of systems and applications over the years that weren't designed to work together and that certainly didn't anticipate the Internet phenomenon. The polite phrase for this is a "heterogeneous environment." The reality is, integration challenges can be a financial and technical black hole. Linux and open source are going to significantly improve the way that information technology gets done.

Here are three examples of interesting open-source initiatives under way:

1. How companies write software. We're seeing fundamental changes in this. T know of one very large U.S. electronics company that put an internal software project into the open-source community and was able to tap the skills of several thousand programmers. …

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