A few thoughts for Open Source

I’m moderating a webcast on Open Source this week. In preparation, a couple of interesting links.

What’s important to remember, of course, is that Open Source Software (OSS) means different things in different contexts. At one level there’s still a significant debate about OS, centring around three things:

  • interoperability: not just, for example, how well Open Office documents interchange with Microsoft Office users, but whether the applications that work with MS Office will also work with Open Office or other OSS offerings
  • maintainability: there’s a reluctance to rely on the OSS community maintenance model when what you’re paying a supplier for is support for what’s there, not the software itself
  • compliance: in applications where security or other forms of compliance are crucial, whether OSS can meet the audit and validation requirements

It seems to me that these debates often focus around Open Office (and its relations, like Star Office or the latest versions of SmartSuite). But there are many areas where OSS is a de facto standard. Linux, of course, is the prime example at the platform level. Among servers, many websites – enterprise internal as well as outward-facing – use Tomcat or Apache. In my own work I use Smalltalk (open sourced from Cincom) for development; I use Audacity for voice recording, for podcasts; my web browser of choice is Firefox; and so on. And I do use Open Office on the few occasions I need to process Office documents on Windows although I use the Microsoft free readers, and it’s Microsoft on my main Mac platform. I don’t use an OSS mail reader or address book, but I know plenty of people do.

Mark Driver of Gartner believes that “The presence of open source is inevitable within mainstream mission-critical IT portfolios.”

So the debate about OSS needs to focus on what, where, and why. And IDC recently posted a note in its Smart Government blog highlighting a debate in UK local government, in Bristol, which is helping to clarify some of the issues for Office software. There’ve been some high profile cases elsewhere: Mitt Romney’s Massachussetts, for example, though I understand the Commonwealth has stepped back from this initiative.

But Bristol’s consideration is publicly minuted, and that makes it interesting as they’ve obtained input on security and compliance from the Cabinet Office and been given a moderate nod to proceed. As IDC point out, there’s potential impact on costs and licensing models for commercial off-the-shelf software as well as for the direct use of OSS; Microsoft Office for small purchasers is vastly cheaper than it was a while ago, for example. It’s worth reading the Bristol paper.

And, of course, with an Open Source community there’s the chance to get involved and help shape the direction of the development. Most commercial or government enterprises won’t want to commit those resources, I guess. But the opportunity is there.

There are a few analyst links included below: it’s worth putting “open source” into the InformationSpan Gartner blog search (see the Analyst Blogs index) for a range of ongoing postings. Mark Driver of Gartner believes that “The presence of open source is inevitable within mainstream mission-critical IT portfolios.”

• Little by little Open Source increases its government penetration, IDC Smart Government, 11 Oct 2011
Open Source Leadership, Notes of meeting at Bristol City Council, 7 Oct 2011
New Research: A CIO’s Perspective On Open Source, Mark Driver, Gartner, 31 Jan 2011

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