Banks 'should give back to open source community'

Linux on Wall Street: Financial companies are making increasing use of open source, but experts say they are among the worst where it comes to 'playing nice'
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

Major open source vendors on Monday called for financial companies to contribute more code to the open source community.

"How many here have open source developers working at their company?" Carl Drisko, Novell's Linux and open source principal, asked the audience during a panel at the Linux on Wall Street conference in New York. Relatively few members of the audience raised their hands, to which Drisko said: "It's pretty rare, the number of folks on the Street [Wall Street] that are making major contributions back. They are consumers of open source, but are not necessarily sharing well. We wish there were more that were going on."

In a separate talk at the conference, Larry Ryan, the director of worldwide financial services at HP, made a similar comment on the lack of open source code contribution by the financial community.

"We've not seen a lot of participation yet from [the financial] community — I would be interested to hear your opinion on why that is," he said to the audience.

Banks are generally reluctant to collaborate with other members of the financial community as they are worried about giving advantages to competitors, Ike Garrido, the director of blade server vendor Egenera, said during the panel discussion.

"What we've found is that our clients [in the financial industry] are ruthless — they want a competitive advantage," said Garrido. "I don't see them playing nice."

Concerns over competitive advantage mean that it can be difficult to persuade companies to share code with the open source community, as it can then be easily accessed by competitors. But for technologies that have little impact on competitive advantage, financial companies could probably be encouraged to contribute code, the conference panel agreed.

Brian Behlendorf, the founder of development software vendor CollabNet, pointed out that if companies keep their bug fixes private, the next mainstream version of the product may not include their bug fix, meaning they would have to patch the system again manually.

"If you're using open source technology on Wall Street, unless you're completely reliant on a vendor to provide a certified version, you will probably invest extra time to fix it," he said. "What will you do with your fix? You can keep it to yourself, but if you move it upstream by passing it on to the vendor or submitting it as a patch, you know it will be available in the next version of the product. That's what drives most open source development — collective self-interest."

Behlendorf also said that if companies are spending a lot of money maintaining a piece of software in-house that does not give them much competitive advantage, they could save costs by releasing the source code or migrating to an open-source equivalent.

Although the financial industry seems to be particularly reluctant to participate in open source communities, Novell's Drisko said any industry sector that is highly competitive is likely to be equally reluctant.

"A lot of other industries are doing a whole lot better in terms of collaborating, but most are not competitive," he said. "For example, there are initiatives to make government systems open source and there is a lot of collaboration between universities. But the closer it comes to affecting the dollar, the less you will see people participating."

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