What Execs Want from Open Source in 2005

Recently, the analyst firm IDC announced they are forecasting the market for servers running Linux will exceed $9 Billion by 2008. If you think about it, that’s really an amazing statement.

It means that in the next few years, big hardware companies like Sun, IBM and Dell are going to sell literally billions of dollars of servers specifically for Linux. A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there, and suddenly we’re talking about serious money. But, Linux is just part of the story. There are literally thousands of others Open Source applications, and their growth is also accelerating — dramatically.

So what new issues or surprises are waiting for us in 2005 with respect to Open Source? Here are a few predictions:

1. Industry analysts and corporate managers will realize that Open Source programming libraries are of even greater importance than complete Open Source applications such as Linux.

I’m talking about Open source application libraries, which are used by corporate software developers to speed up development of internal applications. There is now a wide range of these Open Source application libraries that can provide all sorts of pre-built components that architects and devs can use to solve common programming problems.

They are now available for Web services, XML processing, security, e-mail processing, graphics processing, and all kinds of other functions. Virtually any significant programming problem that is commonly encountered in the course of software development now has an active Open Source development community addressing it.

For example, a huge percentage of Java developers use both the Xerces XML Parser and the Jakarta Struts MVC programming libraries. The cost savings from using just these two libraries could be up to hundreds of dollars per developer per year — compared to purchasing similar proprietary libraries. Considering these are only two of the many thousands of libraries available, it’s easy to see the value of these libraries reaching into the Millions (or even Billions) of dollars.

One Financial Services company I’m familiar with, for example, had a small group of developers that between them leveraged almost 50 different open source libraries for various development projects.

The financial impact of these libraries is huge — both in terms of (a) increased programmer productivity and (b) reduced development time for projects. If every company that used these Open Source libraries had to license them all and pay royalties, I’m certain it would dwarf the $9 billion Linux server market. It’s time people realized how big this is.

2. Non-technology executives will realize that their companies already use much more Open Source than they think.

We all probably know of executives who still think their companies don’t use Open Source. And, of course, we also know that there are probably Open Source technologies (maybe even many) at work inside their enterprise somewhere.

But in 2005, the dramatic and continued growth for Linux will be joined hand-in-hand with boosts in other Open Source use, (like Firefox and Open Office, to just name a couple). So, stated simply, Open Source is bound to finally hit the radar of even the most pointy-haired of bosses. Which leads me to my next prediction

3. Non-technical executives will realize that their companies aren’t using nearly as much Open Source as they should.

Once executives realize that incorporating Open Source libraries into their development processes can make development go faster and cost less, the smarter ones will begin asking why they aren’t using more of it. And this is a question they should be asking. After all, Open Source applications and programming libraries are usually available at little or no cost and they work really, really well.

4. Executives (technical and non-technical) will realize that effectively managing Open Source use within their company is important. In fact, corporate execs may in fact finally become a strong Open Source ally (rather than an adversary).

Once the Open Source “way of thinking” takes hold among execs (both on the IT and the business sides), these execs will realize just how much Open Source is saving them money and speeding up their businesses. Then the smarter among them will learn that they should be using more Open Source, not less. Then, finally, the smartest among them will realize that this is only possible if the whole process is managed correctly.

I know that many reading this probably think that I’m giving these unnamed ‘Corporate Executives’ a bit too much credit. After all, saying in a ‘prediction’ column that a significant number of the innovations in the Open Source movement will come from corporate managers does seem a bit far-fetched.

But on the other hand, think about what happened to Linux a few years ago. Linux went from being considered a fringe operating system to being the shining star of the technology industry. Linux ‘exploded onto the scene’ exactly at the same time that corporate managers finally decided that they were comfortable recommending it for mission-critical applications.

This all leads to my final prediction, and the one with which I’ll close.

5. 2005 will see significant growth in business-to-business Open Source projects.

As more and more non-technical and technical execs believe in Open Source’s benefits, and push more aggressive adoption of Open Source technologies and development processes, we’ll begin to see a ripple effect outside the walls of the stand-alone enterprise. Joint Open Source development projects will occur between companies. This is already beginning, but I believe that in 2005 we’ll see this trend accelerate. Companies providing outsourced development processes and infrastructure, such as Collabnet and VA Software, will help accelerate this trend.

All in all, it seems clear that 2005 will be a year in which smart executives will still have a chance to lead by understanding and aggressively adopting both open source applications such as Linux as well as open source programming libraries. It may be that 12 months from now we’ll look back and realize that this was their last chance to lead – and that if they didn’t take the opportunity to lead now, they’ll find themselves trying to play catch up. Even worse, they could find that the competition’s already moving too fast to catch.

About the author
Kevin Bedell is the director of training and consulting services at Waltham, Mass.-based Black Duck Software, the leading provider of software compliance management solutions for governing software assets. He has nearly twenty years of experience in the software and computer industries.