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Open source impossible to avoid, Gartner says

By 2011, at least 80% of commercial software will contain open source code, analysts predict

By , Network World
September 20, 2007 11:05 AM ET

Network World - You can try to avoid open source, but it’s probably easier to get out of the IT business altogether. By 2011, at least 80% of commercial software will contain significant amounts of open source code, according to Gartner.

“To some of you, this is shocking, you don’t believe this,” Gartner research vice president Mark Driver said Wednesday during the keynote session of Gartner’s Open Source Summit in Las Vegas. “Others are saying, ‘Forget 2011, it’s already here today.’” Even if they don’t plan to use software that’s fully open source, network executives should pay attention to this trend because the open source choices commercial vendors make can expose users to risk or create competitive disadvantages. “Open source is going to come into your network whether you like it or not,” Driver said. “It has become completely impractical to avoid the subject at all.”

Open source isn’t quite as good as some of its proponents would have you believe, and not as dangerous as some detractors might suggest, Driver said. The important thing is to plan an open source strategy, to set guidelines on where and when open source products are to be used. IT shops are scrambling to set open source policies, but almost no one has implemented one with any teeth, he said. It’s better to avoid open source altogether than to not supervise its adoption with something like a don't ask, don’t tell policy, according to Driver. "You’ve got to know what’s in your organization. If you can’t manage it, you can’t control it,” he said.

Some believe you always can get better quality and lower total cost of ownership with open source. But users who think that's always true are “going to be sorely disappointed,” Driver said.

Open source adoption decisions should be based on four factors viewed collectively, Driver said. The first factor is whether the software fits its purpose. This may seem obvious, but some open source proponents exaggerate its capabilities. “Open source, more than anything else in the industry, has a large set of proponents who border on zealots,” he said. “It’s the guy who says, 'Windows sucks, it doesn’t work. Let’s throw it out and use Linux.’”

The second factor is whether the open source product is mature enough to provide an acceptable risk/reward ratio. Are there services and vendors standing behind the product?

The third factor is the company's technology adoption profile. Is it comfortable with bleeding-edge technologies? Does it always require third-party support? How much internal capability does it have to support the product?

The fourth factor is whether the deployment scenario is mission-critical. If the application absolutely has to run every minute of the day, make sure the software meets your requirements. That’s not to say open source can’t be used for mission-critical programs. Deployment patterns show it is, Driver said. “It’s being used by increasingly more conservative companies and for increasingly mission-critical solutions,” he said.

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