Open source has created software overload

Open source has passed three new milestones including a sense that there’s now too many choices.

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Last week, Stephen O'Grady from RedMonk came all the way down to Waltham from Portland, ME (or I guess that must be up, if Maine is "Down East") to speak with us at Black Duck. He was happy to report that open source is alive and well and made a number of interesting points about the software market and open source.

First, RedMonk. This self-described "not your parents' industry analysis firm" is a great resource to know about. First, they cover open source firms extensively. Second, they liked what they saw and soon after their founding in 2002, decided to turn the analyst business model on its ear by making all of their research content free and openly available. If you are a cheapskate like me, interested in open source, what could be better? Steve is the most credible of their consultants as he is an avid Red Sox fan.

Interesting Point Number 1: The big change in open source is that companies are now adopting it, not for ideological reasons, but for good solid business reasons. He cited great examples of companies, even software companies, that are now defining where they want to differentiate technically and where they don't. For parts of their product that aren't core to their value prop, they are happy to find a widget someone else has built. And, if they do have to build it themselves, they often are very happy, after having done so, to put it out in the community (under an open source license) and let somebody(s) else help to maintain it.

Interesting Point Number 2: Open source is becoming so ubiquitous that people sometimes forget that popular packages are open source. The best example he gave was Red Hat. He talked about a company he was working with that went on and on about how they were using no open source behind their firewall, only to later admit that most of their servers were running RHEL. We all chuckled, but he went on to estimate that maybe a third of Enterprise IT folks he talks to don't think RHEL is open source. The good news is that open source is becoming less of an oddity and more of the waters in which we all swim.

Interesting Point Number 3: The proliferation of open source has lead to somewhat of an embarrassment of riches. The guys described above who are looking to fill out their stacks with a non-differentiating component less often have the problem of not finding what they want. Increasingly the issue is sorting through the many choices and figuring out which is the right one.

This was, of course, music to the ears of a company in the business of helping companies manage their use of open source, but it's a positive message for everyone in any kind of business. Increasingly software is making the world go round and thankfully there are tons of freely available building blocks out there that allow companies to efficiently build up the software they need and to focus on those things that make them competitive.

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