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Open source, Linux set for unheralded coronation in 2010

Dec 16, 20096 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxMicrosoft

Cloud, smart devices, services will fuel open source success

Arguably the biggest prediction for 2010 around open source and Linux is that most end-users likely won’t even talk about it or even think about it. But that won’t be a death knell; it’s a coronation

Arguably the biggest prediction for 2010 around open source and Linux is that most end-users won’t talk about it or even think about it. But that won’t be a death knell; it’s a coronation.

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

Experts say no more will open source and Linux be the scruffy-bearded outsider to dressed-up packaged software. Open source is working its way into everything, functioning behind the scenes as the brains for new client access devices such as smartphones, new applications built off existing open source technology and service-based applications that live in the cloud. The focus is function and not the underlying technology.

Perhaps Mike Olson, Sleepy Cat founder and now Cloudera CEO, said it best when he told Network World earlier this year, “At Sleepy Cat, we were proud to be an open source company. At Cloudera, I think of us as an enterprise software company that happens to be built on open source software.”

In addition, governments and other IT organizations in 2010 will validate open source through adoption based on set policies and begin to bring it through the front door based on feature and functionality needs, rather than sneaking it in the backdoor.

It is that recognition of the capabilities rather than the development model that contributed to IDC leaving out the term “open source” when it discussed the technology as part of its predictions for 2010.

“I think the reason why is that open source has become a standard part of the industry and it’s not necessarily something we raise an eyebrow toward,” says Al Gillen, program vice president for system software at IDC. “The larger trends that are happening now are in part, or in a significant way, being assisted, driven or enabled by open source. Open source under the covers is very much a component of what we are predicting to happen in 2010.”

Gillen says that fact is most prominent in cloud computing.

“For anybody building a cloud service that is not a derivative of an existing installed application, there is a pretty good probability that Linux and/or open source components are going to be part of the stack that gets deployed in that cloud. Today you don’t have any other options. You can’t build a Windows cloud.”

Microsoft in February will crank up billings for its Azure cloud platform, but the big push there is to rally developers to build the apps that people will want to consume or can’t live without.

For open source, “platform” also is shaping up to be another big theme in 2010, according to insiders.

“Open source apps are consistently becoming a platform that is being built on,” says Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch. “This has surprised many open source vendors who thought they were building an application.” Fulkerson says that trend could find legs in 2010 as base software packages become the foundation for new classes of applications and services. (See related story, 11 open source companies to watch.)

Jay Lyman, an analyst with the 451 Group, says open source and Linux in 2010 will find equal footing alongside proprietary software when companies evaluate new tools. He cites the Department of Defense memo in October that clarified guidance on the agency’s use of open source. The memo said the technology was equal to commercial software in almost all cases and by law should be considered by the agency when making purchase decisions.

Lyman says the economy, the evolution and maturity of open source, and the presence of more commercial support are opening corporate eyes to the technology.

“We still see a lack of policy on open source adoption in many organizations, but things like the DOD memo help facilitate a more official and formal adoption of open source,” he says.

Lyman says other expected 2010 trends include wider open source penetration in new industries such as healthcare. He cites Medsphere’s support options around the OpenVista electronic health records software. He also sees the lines between developers and operations managers blurring in terms of open source as the two groups sit side-by-side in meetings and on projects, and that vendors are more likely to work through foundations and other groups on their open source efforts, what he calls a “foundational approach” to open source.

He adds that another significant trend in 2010 will show more open source adoption in small-to-midsized businesses. “There are more channel players and VARs, system integrators, hosters and other service providers, and all these players are incorporating more open source into their offerings. So in many cases SMB customers do not know it is open source or they don’t care.”

2010 is likely to explode the growing concept of free hardware, says Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.

“This is the industry moving toward a services model where you make money on thing like iTunes or app stores or Nokia’s Ovi service, or wireless data plans, but not hardware. You’ll see more free computers, free phones, and free consumer products bundled with services.”

Along those lines, Zemlin predicts the rise of the app warehouse in 2010, which is a place that gives developers a supply chain to distribute their applications to many outlets.

“That could be a carrier, an operating system vendor or a PC maker, but a single independent software vendor is not going to market their wares to each individual app store,” Zemlin says.

He also says reports of the death of Linux on netbooks will be exposed as overly exaggerated, and he says the Linux Foundation has a few things up its sleeve that he declined to discuss.

In all, 2010 could hold a diverse number of developments and evolutionary steps, including once again the Linux desktop — especially since GNOME is set for a significant transformation in the form of the 3.0 version that will ship in September.

Major overhauls are not part of Gnome’s DNA. The 3.0 version will introduce a new desktop shell built with the Clutter toolkit and add a new tool called Zeitgeist, a journal-like alternative to conventional file management.

It could also be the year of the big surprise, says Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier, Novell’s openSUSE community manager.

“2009 has obviously been a pretty rough year all around, there were a lot of layoffs,” he says. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if something comes out of left field from some of the smart people who found themselves out of work. Lots of smart folks have had a lot of time on their hands.”

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