No recession woes for open source

The economic situation is expected to be a boon for open source adoption, and for the companies that provide open source support for a fee, say industry experts.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

With the pressure of the recession bearing down on companies, several industry experts expect adoption of open source software to grow, as a result.

Michael Barnes, VP of software and Asia-Pacific research, Springboard Research, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, there has been increased interest over the past three to four months in open source.

"As pressures to reduce IT-related capital expenditures impact buying behavior across the [Asia-Pacific] region, we expect this interest to translate into increased demand [for] open source implementations over the next 12 to 18 months," said Barnes.

According to an IDC survey released Tuesday, more than half of companies polled said they would accelerate Linux adoption this year. The greatest driver of this trend was cost, and "related to lowering ongoing support costs", IDC said.

IDC added that the Asia-Pacific region showed most enthusiasm for Linux adoption, with 73 percent saying they would increase deployments on the server and 70 percent on the desktop. In the United States, these figures stood at 66 percent and 67 percent, respectively.

Companies will keep paying for open source support
Jean-Philippe Monteiro, who runs The Tropical Ice Cube, an agency distributing free and open source software in Cambodia, thinks companies may be prompted by the recession to "dump" licensed software and hop onto the "free" bandwagon.

With the recession hanging overhead, some companies may try to support their open source deployments in-house--a decision that will come with "glitches and failures" for some, said Monteiro in an e-mail interview.

"They will do it under pressure, [but] it may not come as cheap as they thought, with glitches and failures," he said, but added that for companies with good internal IT support, most of these "failures" would be manageable.

The more common option of paying for support is likely to persist. Monteiro said the number of companies paying for support is not likely to go down despite the recession. "Companies with support contracts aren't likely to ditch [their providers] just to [cut costs]," he said.

Springboard's Barnes said it is simply too risky to cut support costs. Companies relying on open source software particularly for "strategic" aspects of infrastructure such as operating systems and databases will continue paying for support, he said.

Gen Kanai, director of Asia business development, Mozilla Corporation, said it is possible in theory for some companies to get away with cutting support, if they have sufficient internal expertise. Uptake would likely be positively impacted with businesses reviewing "the need for expensive software licenses", Kanai said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

But while open source software will help bring down software licensing costs, "it is important to make sure that the replacement solutions are appropriate for the employees and tasks", he noted.

Development will go on
Kanai thinks the open source community will continue growing, in spite of recession woes.

"There may be some programmers and engineers who have less time to contribute to open source projects due to the need to look for new income" but others who have more time on their hands may make up for that shortfall.

Furthermore, some developers consider contributing to a major open source project as a positive mark on their resumes, Kanai added. "If you can contribute significantly to a popular OSS project, it is work that can be publicly reviewed and can be a great way to show the skill of a programmer or engineer."

Monteiro acknowledged that development efforts may slow down somewhat with the recession, but said the open source universe would continue expanding.

He said the growth of open source would also be reliant on full-time coders who are hired by open source companies. The Linux Foundation pays people to write the kernel full-time, he added.

But Barnes thinks "passion alone will never win the day". He said the majority of contribution to open source software comes from developers, most of whom are already employed and do not get compensated for their contributions, nor expect to be paid.

Therefore, a constant stream of contribution is reliant on developers staying employed, Barnes said.

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