Open source to change the face of software says report

Proprietary software vendors are "mercenary developers" versus open source revolutionaries according to Forrester

Open source ideas will change the face of the software industry by the year 2004, according to new research published by research company Forrester.

Forrester predicts software companies will be forced to shift from proprietary business models to open source alternatives as they come to see open source as a more efficient and economically advantageous method of software development.

"Proprietary software vendors will suddenly see software development as an unfair fight: their captive band of mercenary developers against a battalion of Internet-armed revolutionaries," say the authors of the report. "By 2004, software vendors will fell pressure to change their business models to open source ones."

The term "open source" refers to software for which the original program code is available and which can be modified. There are various open source licences, the most widespread of which is the GNU General Public Licence (GPL). This allows software to be altered and sold commercially under certain conditions. The kernel of the Linux operating system is distributed under this licence agreement.

Analysts predict that software companies will be compensated for lost revenues with improved efficiency. "They will accept less licensing revenue -- just to be able to deliver the high-quality products faster than their competitors."

Forrester's study concludes that major software vendors that are already embracing open source standards such as IBM and Dell will fare better over the next four years than those sticking to proprietary models, including Microsoft.

The expansion of open source standards will, suggests Forrester, also mean companies spend 20 percent less on proprietary software by the year 2004.

Fifty-six percent of those questioned for the study said that they already use open source software in some form and a further six percent said that their company intended to adopt open source within the next two years.

A notable 86 percent of those questioned believed that open source software would significantly fuel innovation within the software industry as a whole. Others said that the open source software development model means improved source code, more reliable applications, lower prices, greater innovations and better security.

Ben Laurie a UK-based director of the open source Apache Software Foundation emphasises the advantages that open source software development offers. "It's harder to get away with rubbish when people look at it," he says. "People are also interested in specific things and bring expertise and enthusiasm."

"The bottom line for software vendors is that if it is good for customers it is good for the company," he adds.

The fact that major technology players have embraced the open source movement is seen as a key to encouraging the overall growth of open source. The study also remarks at the rapid success of open source start-ups including VA Linux and Transmeta.

The Linux operating system and the Apache Web server are two better known examples of open source success. Both have become established as cost-efficient, effective alternatives to proprietary software.

Operating systems analyst at IDC Europe Kirsten Ludvigsen, however, believes that over the next few years open source software will move into other spaces. She says that the release of 64-bit Linux for Intel's Itanium processor will mean open source adoption for business enterprise and data handling purposes. "Open source will go from strength to strength," she says.

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