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3 open-source challenges: cloud computing, open Web, mobile

By Esther Schindler, CIO
July 25, 2008 06:20 PM ET

CIO - "We have come into real contention [for mindshare] in the enterprise," said Tim O'Reilly, CEO at O'Reilly Media, in his keynote address at OSCON, this week's Open Source convention in Portland, Ore. "So we should be patting ourselves on the back, right? I'm not so sure."

While celebrating the many accomplishments of free software, O'Reilly put most of his attention on the new challenges where open source could-and in his opinion should-make a difference. And he brought several people on stage to back up his points. "We have to pay attention to the real consequences to the wave we've unleashed," he said.

The big challenges and opportunities he identified, where open-source communities can make a difference and where it's keeping up, are cloud computing, the open programmable Web and open mobile.

O'Reilly pointed out that cloud computing means we're looking at "immense centralization," where peer-to-peer computing (a traditional strength of the open-source community) is a big part. "How do we redefine and restructure the world so that it matches our values instead of the other way around?" he asked the audience, citing Jesse Vincent's premise: "Web 2.0 is digital sharecropping."

Great minds and cool startups (such as reasonablysmart.com) are working on these issues, O'Reilly said, such as trying to figure out if we can build the next generation Web services with the XMPP protocol.

How's the community doing on this? Fairly well. During another session at the conference, Brian Aker, director of technology for MySQL, cited the influence the open source community has had on Amazon.com, which he described as an innovator and leader in cloud computing services. "Amazon is an interesting position. They're always been a fairly secretive company and they've been pushed into an open position." (For more on Amazon's strategy, see Amazon.com's IT Leader Leaving Huge Customer Service Infrastructure as Legacy.

"Data is the new lock-in," said O'Reilly, as he underscored the importance of the programmable Web. The Internet isn't the operating system. . .yet. Just as Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city, explained O'Reilly, the Internet is 72 subsystems in search of an OS. "We have to think about what will keep them free," emphasized O'Reilly.

When you look up data from a proprietary service, someone owns the mapping and the connections between the data, he said. Other people are pushing in the other direction to create an open Web platform, however - O'Reilly pointed to the Yahoo! Search boss, in which the company is opening up its search engine - and, he said, "People are starting to cast new energy and ideas into our ecosystem."

Browser Wars on the Smartphone

And then there's mobility. The browser wars are back, said O'Reilly, but they're back on the phone. Fortunately, though, "Big companies like Google are putting a big stake in the ground saying 'we believe in open, we have to believe in open,'" he said. Google understands that if the mobile phone isn't open, they're toast. To explain the import of this attitude, O'Reilly explained, "This is like Microsoft in 1995 embracing open source rather than them embracing it today."

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