Open source software moves into all businesses

A Black Duck survey and the Linux Collaboration Summit both show that open-source software and the open-source method are moving well beyond where you think they live, and into all businesses.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

We all know open source has become an important tool in pure software development. What's now becoming clear, according to a Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners open-source survey that was released on April 17th and events at the Linux Foundation's Linux Collaboration Summit, is that open source is now helping improve enterprise networking, smart cars, and academia.

Linux and open-source software is now in all industries and "devices", including this Linux-enabled Land Rover.
Image: The Linux Foundation

For example, at the Summit, the simple fact that The Linux Foundation was successful in getting such mortal business enemies as Big Switch, Cisco, and Juniper on the same page in the OpenDaylight Project to open-source software defined networking (SDN) is amazing. It's not just lip-service to finding a common way to implement SDN's core OpenFlow protocol, the members are putting in tens of millions of dollars in resources for code that will be openly shared with everyone — including non-members.

Why are they doing this? As executive director of the Linux Foundation, Jim Zemlin said, OpenDaylight members can share on a "level playing field where no single actor can dominate the process. They understand that they can gain more by working together in an open-source way with open-source governance, while still competing in the marketplace".

The same is true in the automobile industry. As Matt Jones, a senior technical specialist for Jaguar Land Rover infotainment systems said at the Summit, competitors, such as Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota, are working together on common operating system and application programming interfaces (APIs) because they can focus on delivering applications and not worry about operating system infrastructure. "When was the last time you bought a car based on its operating system?" Jones asked.

Away from the conference, the recently released survey of more than 800 open-source-savvy business professionals revealed that they see the most important open-source trend in the next two to three years to be... on the desktop? In the cloud? At Microsoft!? No, no, and, oh my, no! Growth of open-source knowledge and culture in academia ranked highest overall.

Why? That's easy. Linux and open source needs people. As the recent Linux Jobs Survey found, managers from corporations, small and medium businesses (SMBs), government, and staffing agencies want Linux professionals — and they needed them yesterday. As Jon Corbet said in his Linux weather report at the Summit, only about 10 percent of Linux kernel developers are now working on their own, and the only reason they're not working for a company that supports their Linux programming is because they don't want to. "If you can get code in the Linux kernel, you can have a job anytime you want."

Another result of this trend is that companies are also becoming more supportive of actively working with the OSS community. Their first reason for doing this is to reduce their IT costs, but the second reason now is to attract good developers and IT staff. If a company actively supports OSS, the logic is that it will be easier to attract and keep top technology talent.

Other important trends were: The adoption of open-source software (OSS) into non-technical segments, 86.3 percent; OSS Development methods adopted inside businesses; increased awareness of OSS by consumers, 71.9 percent; and growth of industry specific communities, 63.3 percent.

As for which industry will be most impacted by OSS over the next 2-3 years, government was ranked No. 1 with 35 percent of respondents, followed by health/medical/life sciences in a distant No. 2 with 15 percent, Media in No. 3 with 13 percent, Financial No. 4 with 9 percent, and Automotive at No. 5 with 8 percent.

One interesting change from the last survey was how important people ranked the factors that matter to open source adoption in business:

    1. Better Quality

    2. Freedom from vendor lock-in

    3. Flexibility, access to libraries of software, extensions, add-ons

    4. Elasticity, ability to scale at little cost or penalty

    5. Superior security

    6. Pace of innovation

    7. Lower costs

    8. Access to source code

The 2012 survey results had Freedom at number one, Flexibility at number two, and Quality in third place. One surprising result here is how low "access to source code" ranked — it ranked lowest of all the factors, with 14 percent ranking it unimportant. Historically, code access has always ranked as the most important to free software supporters.

Another interesting result was how this group perceived the relative importance of open source vs. proprietary alternatives. Many people believe that low total cost of ownership (TCO) is the single most important reason companies turn to OSS. It's important, but it's not number one.

Instead, the top three are: Competitive features/technical capabilities, security concerns, and then TCO. Oddly enough, "Formal Commercial Vendor Support", which traditionally has been seen as a vital requirement for enterprises, ranked dead last. It would seem that businesses that use OSS are finding that they don't need external technical support the way they historically have with proprietary software.

Specifically when it came to OSS vs. proprietary in terms of which were better, the survey found that while, as always, operating systems and development tools were the top two, the number three spot varied according to what role a company played in the economy. Vendors saw cloud taking third, but non-vendors saw mobile in the three spot, while larger companies (1,000 and up employees) saw OSS taking the third spot in big data. The end conclusion is that there's great interest in OSS solutions in cloud, mobile, and big data in coming years.

What does it all mean? In a statement, Tim Yeaton, president and CEO of Black Duck Software said: "The 2013 Future of Open Source Survey results point to a cultural shift in business, where companies are employing a new level of sophistication as they work within OSS communities to attract talented developers and influence projects while maintaining good citizenship in the community. The technology, as well as the tenets of open source, are being adopted, the surest indicator of the positive changes that can come with OSS."

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