Fear what? The success of open source?

Summary:Big business has good reasons to embrace open source.

Mary Jo Foley's recent column "Open-source backers: Are you afraid?" gets it all wrong.

The suggestion that big companies pose a threat to open source misses the big picture, focusing instead on a worn-out generality that positions Microsoft Corp.'s competitors against the open-source movement in a way Bill Gates himself would envy.

Big companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have a very simple business motivation for backing open-source software: lower total cost of ownership for their hardware platforms.

Each of these companies makes its living selling hardware. Inexpensive, high-quality software increases their value proposition. And, of course, a Linux/Intel combo undoubtedly represents a very reasonable license structure compared with their NT/Intel offerings. It really is that simple.

Let's get real about what IBM is up to. Do you really think IBM is ballyhooing Linux and spending big-time bucks to "garner positive press?"

IBM is about revenue and profitability. To leapfrog its competitors Sun and Microsoft, IBM is trying to lower the overall cost of building server solutions, from the operating system on up the middleware stack.

For example, an open-source configuration comprising Linux as the operating system, PostgreSQL as the database and Enhydra as an application server gives platform vendors the ability to ship powerful, high-quality platforms with virtually no cost overhead.

Big business, as Foley says, is moving to open source both for strategic and opportunistic reasons.

As the job market shrinks (hopefully for the short term), refugees of failed dot-com startups are migrating back to the stability of larger offices. And they're bringing open-source religion with them. Enterprise IT is discovering the advantages of open source for innovative, affordable skunk work projects.

As the steward of Enhdyra.org, Lutris knows that a lot of jane@hotmail.com members are alter egos for jane@timewarner.com or jane@generalmotors.com. In the process, they're spreading open source by viral marketing and evangelism. It's a powerful process.

Foley asks, "Why aren't open source purists afraid of being co-opted by big companies?" That's like asking the Christian Coalition, "Why can't you decide if Gore or Bush is the winner?" That's because the open-source community is rapidly growing, maturing, diversifying and becoming truly global. Around the world, from Taiwan to France to South Africa, start-up companies are bootstrapping on open source.

So what is an open-source purist, and does it really matter anymore? The purists defined, described and deployed open source. For better or worse, it's now in the hands of a worldwide community. By its very nature, the open-source process is available to the world of individuals, small businesses and big businesses. More business people are participating in open-source because it's good for their business, big or start-up.

So what does open source get in return for all this big-business leverage? Legitimacy, to be precise. We applaud those businesses with bold open-source initiatives because they are helping the rest of us who have built a business model around open-source technology legitimize it in the eyes of enterprise customers. By embracing Linux, IBM will kill a few birds with one stone, standardizing on one well-supported open platform and affording open source the status it deserves.

Heck, IBM may even truly believe that the open-source process churns out superior software!

An early founder of five-year-old Lutris Technologies, David Young served as president for two-and-a-half years and now serves as chief evangelist, making presentations on open source and the open-source Enhydra Java/XML application server to leaders of Enterprise IT organizations.

Topics: Open Source, IBM, Servers

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