“In a few years’ time, almost all businesses will use open source” says a recent Gartner report entitled, “The State of Open Source 2008.” The report continues with statements such as, “By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises will use open source in direct or embedded forms.” (I’m getting my data from ZDNet, as the report, despite reporting on open source software, is not openly available).
It seems that Gartner has realized what so many have realized already: That open source makes sense from a business perspective. The report, however, does miss some key features of “open source.”
The report uses the term “open source” and does not discuss Free Software or use that term (not all open source software is Free Software! This “little” difference can be very important!). For example, the Microsoft open source licenses are “open source” but notably not Free – as a business, being bound by the MS licenses could be a very bad thing, as they severely restriction modification, distribution, and attribution – things which are integral to the use of the software, especially in a business environment.
The reports has no mention of how the sharing of code and ideas benefits corporations beyond merely reducing licensing costs. It misses the whole point of the Free Software culture, that companies such as Red Hat, Drupal, Canonical, and IBM make their money and success on. For example, Red Hat makes money by having the community do a lot of work for it at a lesser cost, something the report misses.
SaaS (Software as a Service) is a major focus of the report, and is something analysts such as Garntner and Forrester spend a lot of time and paper contemplating. The report, however, fails to notice that a large amount of SaaS is actually Free Software. For example, WordPress (which powers this blog) is available in SaaS from (at www.wordpress.com) and the exact same Free Software is downloadable and runnable on your own server (which is what we at Molecular do). So the differentiation that SaaS will become popular versus open source is fundamentally inaccurate – since SaaS can be open source, they are not mutually exclusive.
I’m not surprised that Gartner made these mistakes – Gartner, as I understand it, gets its information via marketing materials, press releases, and other traditional measures, whereas most of the Free Software world disseminates information via meetings, blogs, emails, and newsgroups. Furthermore, analysts make money by charging for content (as exemplified by the lack of available of this particular report) – the same business model that proprietary software uses. So the idea of free information/software is a very different philosophy, one that can be seen as threatening to their own business model, and therefore perhaps not in an analysts’ best interest to study too much.
However, I am pleasantly surprised that these groups, that so many CTOs, marketing departments, and other groups pay very close attention to, are finally looking at open source and seeing its value.
Interestingly, this bit of news came out at the same time as some developments. Just recently, I wrote a blog post about how Red Hat’s CEO indicated that his company is going to increase it’s Free Software advocacy. According to CNET, Linux use is up 61% over the past 12 months – now at 2.01%. Firefox’s use rate is now somewhere around 15%. Apple’s Safari browser was built using a Free Software renderer, and Apple now develops the browser rendering engine, WebKit, as Free Software. Perhaps the corporate world is ready for Free Software? Should Molecular join the movement?