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Windows and open source: A growing trend

Jan 23, 20066 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

While it may seem sacrilegious to most in the hardcore open source world, the number of community-developed software deployments on Windows is growing as users look for ways to get the benefits of open source without having to overhaul their IT infrastructure.

The fact is open source isn’t just for Linux and there are dozens of community-developed applications that run well on Windows (SourceForge list) with more in the works. Not that there aren’t some hurdles. Most open source projects are rooted in Linux, so many lack the installers or drivers necessary to take full advantage of the features in the Windows platform.

Although users may get the performance they need from open source applications ranging from network services to Web servers to databases to application servers on Windows, they may spend much of their time recompiling code to link in more tightly with Windows-based services.

“Generally, what we’ve seen is the vast majority of open source software still focuses on the Linux space, but the amount of open source that will run on Windows is increasing,” says Eric Kuzmack, IT architect at news conglomerate Gannett in Silver Spring, Md. Gannett runs Linux, Windows and Unix in its data center and is beginning to bring in open source applications in all of those environments. It has a few open source products running on Windows, including a network service called OpenSLP (Service Location Protocol).

“Where we see room for improvement is in the installers. Much of the open source we’ve seen tends not to come with a robust installer that takes advantage of all [the services] that the Windows platform can provide,” Kuzmack says. “When you install an application you should be able to utilize the installation capabilities of the platform. Today, that’s not always built in” for Windows.

In addition, documentation is often lacking for Windows deployments, he says.

“While [OpenSLP] runs on Windows, there is virtually no information available for how to install and configure it on the Windows platform,” Kuzmack says. “There is lots of information on doing it on the various Linux and Unix platforms, but to find out how to do it on Windows takes a fair amount of research.”

Attitudes evolving

The general perception that open source equals Linux is changing as open source software matures and users look to gain benefits such as cost savings and the flexibility that comes with having access to source code, analysts say. At the same time, users with Windows environments aren’t ready to take the costly route of scrapping their infrastructure to bring in Linux.

As a result, there is a growing trend toward improving open source applications for Windows.

Jeff Bates, vice president of editorial operations at The Open Source Technology Group, home to and SourceForge, the open source software development community, says he has seen a dramatic increase in activity around enhancing Linux-based projects for Windows.

“If you ask, ‘How much activity is there in having open source software running on Windows,’ the answer is, ‘A lot,'” he says, pointing to the popular Firefox Web browser as a strong example. “Also look at the sheer number of projects on that are Windows-based.”

In September, JBoss, an open source application server and middleware firm that has long supported Windows, announced an agreement with Microsoft to provide better interoperability between its Java-based software and the Windows operating system.

Systems vendors also are stepping up their support. HP earlier this month announced that it was expanding its support for JBoss and would certify the open source vendor’s entire enterprise middleware stack, not just on Linux but also on HP-UX and Windows.

JBoss and MySQL say that surveys of users show about half run open source products on Windows, in large part because of the mixed environments found in most data centers today. With analyst firms expecting the adoption of open source applications such as databases, application servers and business software to grow rapidly over the next few years, it’s not surprising to see a focus on fine-tuning open source applications for Windows.

Open source on Windows “is a dirty little secret about open source,” says Bill Hilf, director of platform technology strategy at Microsoft, and head of the company’s Linux and open source lab. “There are a lot of people who not only try out open source software but deploy it on Windows.”

A big reason is that companies with large Windows deployments aren’t likely to migrate to Linux simply because of the cost.

“If I’m a company that is primarily using Windows servers and I haven’t been a big user of Unix, for me to bring Linux into my environment would be a significant expense,” says Michael Goulde, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. “I’d have to get people trained, develop policies and procedures and processes. It’s building a whole new infrastructure, and if I can avoid doing that why wouldn’t I? If I can make use of open source applications and get all the advantages of open source and still run on Windows, why not? Then I can still take advantage of all the expertise I have.”

Joseph Casper, senior vice president of product development for First Consulting Group (FCG), says the option of running open source software on Windows has helped reduce costs and increase customer acceptance.

FCG pioneered a physicians’ portal called FirstGateways now running at Swedish Medical Center, in Seattle, in which doctors can tap into patient records. The portal, which includes a JBoss application server, Apache Tomcat, Windows and SQL Server, may become a standard in the healthcare industry.

“A challenge was to have affordability,” Casper says. “The integration of JBoss allowed us to keep the cost [of software licensing] down, and JBoss provided the monitoring and performance tools we needed to ensure organizations the size of Swedish that the stability would be there, the tools to manage privacy would be there. Microsoft offered the stability.”

Swedish was a bit hesitant at first about adopting the open source/Windows combination, but the partnership announcement between JBoss and Microsoft helped alleviate that concern, Casper says.