December 12, 2005 - Gartner Open Source Summit

Last week I attended the first annual Gartner Open Source Summit. Gartner is a major IT market researcher and consultant, specifically for large businesses. The fact that this conference exists speaks volumes for the penetration of open source in all sorts of IT shops. OSS hung under the radar for quite a while because it doesn't show up in any of the traditional data that analysts use to measure market segments. However, Gartner is now working hard to try to pull together numbers on how much OSS is used in IT so it can better issue analysis and predictions.

What are they saying?

Well, part of the message is pretty dramatic. For example, companies have about 18 months to get some sort of OSS strategy in place, if they don't have one, or they will start losing competitive advantage. By 2010 (or sooner) there will be major, mature open source offerings in nearly every component of the IT component stack. Right now, OSS offers mature software in three areas: OS (Linux, OpenSolaris, etc.), Web serving (LAMP, etc.), and Database (MySQL, etc.).

Basically, they are predicting that OSS will be the major player in most software markets in the next few years.

This may not surprise those of us in the OSS community. However, this does portend an upsurge in interest in Open Source. In fact, it's already happening at an alarming pace, alarming enough that I would even predict a sort of OSS bubble in the near future.

I am also hearing some things that I was only peripherally aware of.

One of the main reasons companies are hesitant to use OSS or will go so far as to forbid it altogether is fear. Companies fear claims and law suits from people who might pop up and claim ownership of a piece of open source code they've come to rely on.

So when a company pays for a software product rather than use an open source alternative, they are also buying a contract. That contract provides two main things: support and indemnification. The first one we often discuss in the OSS community, and in fact it's the community that provides support. But that second one, can be a major problem.

Large software companies certify that everything they are selling is theirs and that it works. More importantly, if it turns out something wasn't theirs, they will pay the legal bills if someone sues over intellectual property violation. This is what the execs are looking for.

According to Gartner, and I completely agree, the major upsurge in the next few years will be in companies providing services around OSS. Specifically, support for products, support for stacks of products (for example, testing and certifying a particular set of version numbers for a LAMP stack), and idemnification for legal issues around supported code. Some vendors are already in this space, but there will be many more coming.

The real question from the OSS side is, how will these vendors interface with the OSS community? If they want to provide true support and fix issues, I think they can't help but be major players in the community to get their changes incorporated back into distributions. To do this, these companies will need to hire people involved in the major communities they support. So coders in various OSS circles could become a hot commodity in the near future for support companies looking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

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