Open Source through an identity crisis
We have been working on open source for last five years now. When we started out every trend and every simple news around Open Source adoption used to excite us tremendously. During this time Open Source trends were followed passionately and the hype around its use and ultimate dominance was never understated.
However Open Source has already won now. When you win what do you do. What is next for Open Source. How far do we continue to talk about the Open Source’ness of Open Source. Time has come to change its meaning. Evaluate what it stands for today and in future.
I remember a brief incident a few years ago while positioning Open Source model to a CIO. When told about the merits of the Open Source model he pondered and mentioned they had adopted it already in the shape of Linux, application and web servers. Then he mentioned about trying to understand how to use Open Source as if it was not being used. As if there was more to be done and was a great idea but they were not sure how to do it. I now look back and ponder on the reasons why he said so.
Most businesses use open source today or plan to induct open source alternative but Open Source today is an alternative for not one thing but many IT things. When one looks at the implementing it in one area the focus is on that particular alternative. The model has so many different options and choices available today that businesses don’t see it any more as a technology or a single entity. It is to them potentially a collection of several alternatives.
Therefore, Open source is going through an identity crisis. Its not LINUX any more and now its many things. Which one is it then?
Solving the Identity Crisis
Businesses and Vendors have to stop propagating what has already been said. The idea of Open source as a Choice is the closest definition I can think of which brings together the various facets to light. Ultimately Open source has to deliver results and when many results are possible it has to deliver each result in such a way that it meets the business need better than a proprietary model.
Open Source today is therefore a case of intersecting identities while its adoption grows unabated. Here are a few examples:
- Open Source is quite simply a CHOICE. Look for the best vendor to implement the choice and plan ahead to extract its benefits.
- Open Source is SaaS (Software as a Service) you use as a service and pay a monthly fee.
- Open Source is integrated and better set of software bundles that make your lead time to market faster
- Open Source is the next software platform that you will use for your mobiles to run your applications
- Open Source is the direction you will end up taking while designing your next software platform
- Open Source is the next integration API you will use to connect your disparate data sources
So here we are. Best way to end this identity crisis is to not get driven by multiple identities that exist but look at a set of wholesome trends today in the industry and see the hidden LINUX stories and case studies emerging in each one of them.
Well its already started happening !!!!
Businesses now look at open source very differently. A few years ago it was something about free software and low cost. Now its taking a much more serious shape and businesses are evaluating it as one of the options while buying IT. Generally speaking the element of source code being available is really not why businesses are attracted to it. Most businesses lack the skills to download the code and modify it for their own use (though the number of businesses that have now capability is steadily increasing !! thanks to the ease of software development today !!!). Therefore for any business open source is more about Choice.
Choice because now the options before the businesses are not limited to some proprietary vendor options. Choice also because among the proprietary vendors some of them have commercial open source software. Some choices are created also because business solutions are now freely available. WordPress blog to start a web site like this is an excellent example of how something as free can get your journalist tendencies flowing so smoothly.
Having said that Vendors are continually defining what they want Open source to deliver. Vendors are reacting to this by using open source to create new choices. Typically these can be categorised as:
- Open Source in a On Demand SaaS (Software as a service) or even aaS (as a Service models)
- Open Source in On Premise SaaS model.
- Open Source integrated in custom software to build platforms that give proprietary technologies used for development a run for money.
- Open Source in enterprise software including linux, virtualisation, and all the way up to the stack in terms of Business Intelligence and Content Management Systems.
- Open Source solutions in verticals that are OSS aligned such as Public Sector
- Open Source in database and even services such as Zoho (http://www.zoho.com) that allow users to create database applications quickly on demand.
- Open Source in Cloud
Clearly the choices are slowly being created and giving a plethora of options to any business of any size. However the legacy of the past and use of enterprise software in licensing terms is yet to be washed away. Most IT managers today making the decisions to buy IT are still aware of only the perpetual licensing models so unconsciously are restricting the new choices to be adopted through open source.
It is often said that only aggressive IT adopters today look at open source as a choice while most risk averse businesses do not use the Open source options due to its inconsistent maturity. However the lessons for these organisations are on the wall.
- Look for vendors that are cleverly inventing new things with Open Source. Google is a great example of the world’s greatest open source case study.
- Look for vendors that simplify open source for you. Forget the technical pitch of what open source technologies and frameworks they know about and can customize. Ask them what they have done with it and what new additions over and above the default community versions they have created. In summary what have they contributed back?
- Look for services that have been built purely on Open source and hide the complexity of underlying software. This shows the wonderful innovation that is hidden behind the offering. If a vendor has that degree of engineering behind them then surely they will be a trustworthy partner solving your complex problems.
Where is it all going?
My take is that the open source way of implementing choices is going where all natural choice creating phenomenon have moved in history. For example democracy is all about choices and now the ultimate expression of how nation state should speak in multiple voices catering to each actor within a state.
In a similar way, software democracy is on play. The level playing field is being levelled again. In this process it is creating new models and new vendors and new businesses.
One thing is clear that the future of IT to businesses through the open source way of thinking is very exciting indeed.