From the White House to (no kidding) Microsoft, open source shined in '09

The struggling economy turned out to be favorable for Linux and open source in 2009

For open source and Linux, 2009 has been another year of big and surprising milestones, from the White House adopting open source technology to Microsoft submitting code for the Linux kernel.

11 open source companies to watch for 2009 

The struggling economy turned out to be favorable for Linux and open source, as IT teams scrambled to do more with shrunken budgets. And throughout the year, the open source community saw milestone events and emerging trends that will likely continue into 2010 and beyond.

Perhaps the most shocking event was Microsoft's submission of code for inclusion in the Linux kernel under a GPL license that Microsoft once tagged as a threat to capitalism itself. But it was not so much an olive branch as it was a brain freeze: Microsoft had inadvertently included some open source code in the virtualization drivers it eventually submitted for the Linux kernel and was more or less left with little choice.

Microsoft ended up in that same spot later in the year when a tool it released to create bootable USB drives for Windows 7 also was found to contain open source code. That tool also was pushed into the open source community.

Open source also showed up in other prominent places, most notably as the back end for Whitehouse.gov, which in October converted its content management platform to Drupal. It was a clear indication that President Obama's administration is extending its open and transparent strategy to technology.

"It was a big milestone for Drupal, and I think for open source in general it provides us great credibility," says Dries Buytaert, the creator and project lead for Drupal.

It was also a sign that the government did not view open source as a second-class citizen or security risk, a fact that was broadcast by the Department of Defense shortly after the White House's October surprise.

The Defense Department clarified its guidance on open source by saying the technology was equal to commercial software in almost all cases and by law should be considered by the agency when making purchase decisions.

Another watershed moment came in April, when Oracle made a $7.4 billion bid to acquire Sun, a move that could make Oracle the largest open source company. At stake are the futures of projects such as Open Solaris, Open Office and MySQL.

Speaking of software projects, in 2009 the Apache Foundation turned 10 and celebrated with a membership of 300 members working on 65 active projects.

"Today, our model is getting stronger and that is bringing more projects into Apache," says Doug Cutting, a member of the ASF board of directors and the creator of Apache's Lucene project.

Another significant milestone was Red Hat being added in July to Standard and Poor's 500 stock index, which is a list of the leading companies of the U.S. economy including J. P. Morgan, GE, IBM and Google. It was a tip of the cap from Wall Street that Red Hat is a business force and Linux has substantial momentum.

In addition to single events, open source saw the continued development of some important trends including new business models and cloud computing.

The debate continues to rage about Open Core licensing, which describes products with two licensing models -- one open source and the other a commercial license. But the twist really comes when the commercial license includes unique product features that are not available in the free version.

"That is the model that is clearly shaken out as the most effective model for second-generation open source companies," says Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch. Fulkerson says the majority of second-generation companies are those that started after 2001 or 2002.

The model provides the vendor with revenue beyond support subscriptions, and the financial means to juice the vibrancy of the surrounding community. The user gets extra features that hopefully fill a need, much like add-ons purchased for proprietary software.

But others argue that the model is an open door for commercial vendors to taint the heart of the open source movement.

The business model debate also leaked into cloud computing, which emerged in 2009 as a hot button for open source.

Matt Aslett, enterprise software analyst for The 451 Group, wrote in his blog: "Cloud computing is undeniably a threat to the monetization of open source software, but it is also an opportunity. Be quick or be dead."

Vendors are quickly trying to figure out how to offer their software in the cloud and those with applications as opposed to infrastructure components such as databases may find the most opportunity.

"MindTouch has to deliver a cloud offering," Fulkerson says. "The nature of how people consume software is changing, and our partners will have to adapt to that as well. They will have to build and deliver through the cloud as well.”

But perhaps the biggest trend in 2009 that will continue to have a dramatic affect on 2010 is what Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, calls "Linux everywhere."

"I can't even count the number of products that have been released with Linux, it can't be counted. I think the idea in 2009 of Linux everywhere is key," he says.

Linux showed up in Samsung televisions, Sony cameras, Motorola cell phones and many other products.

"Really this idea of computing anywhere and everywhere came true in '09 and really Linux made that possible. That is the big trend and big milestone in 09," Zemlin says.

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