At the Open Source Business Conference held this week in San Francisco, some big-name commercial vendors continued the trend of contributing formerly closed code into the open source community.BEA Systems announced that it's releasing its Java-based Kodo persistence engine to the open source community, and Sun released the specifications to its UltraSparc microprocessor under the GPL.These are by no means isolated moves. Late last year Sun announced plans to release its entire Java-based middleware stack to the open source community, for example, and Qlusters extended its Qlusters Resource Management software for controlling Linux systems into the open source realm at the end of January.At the same time, more vendors have jumped on the trend to offer versions of their proprietary products for free. Most recently, VMware released VMware Server, a free version of its server virtualization software. IBM unveiled a free version of its WebSphere application server in November, followed by a free version of its DB2 database in late January.Making software products available for free is a good idea for the industry at large since it puts products in reach of a wider audience, observers say.\u201cWe haven't used any of the 'free' versions of products from Oracle, IBM, VMware and Microsoft. I see this as a positive, however, because it does make their offerings accessible to as many people as possible,\u201d says Corey Ostman, director of new technology initiatives at PriceGrabber.com in Culver City, Calif.Bob Igou, a research director at Gartner, agrees. \u201cOne of things that open source does is put a market of software out there that has no barrier to entry or use,\u201d he says. This means a lot of organizations can have access to technology they never could have afforded before, he says.However some vendors' open-source gestures are more tactical than benevolent, analysts say.Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst at Burton Group, says that with open source gaining a stronger foothold in corporate data centers, it\u2019s not surprising to see commercial vendors submitting their own code to community development. When open-source alternatives shrink demand for a commercial product, vendors have little choice but to either close down development, or generate some goodwill by contributing the product to open source, he says.\u201cIf you\u2019ve created a product and you\u2019ve invested resources in it, and now there\u2019s an open source solution that\u2019s available and it\u2019s actually gaining more traction, it\u2019s really hard to justify doing commercial development on that product," Monson-Haefel says.Contributing a product to open source community poses little risk to a vendor, he says. "If it ends up taking off, they become the stewards of this successful open source project, if it doesn\u2019t then it\u2019s the community\u2019s fault."In some cases, the move to turn a proprietary product into an open source project stems from desperation, Monson-Haefel says. \u201cIt\u2019s a last ditch effort. It\u2019s part publicity stunt and part trying to salvage something from vested assets,\u201d he says.Analysts caution users to devote proper due diligence before deploying a once-closed product. When commercial vendors turn proprietary code into free software, enterprise users must examine the product as they would any commercial offering, Gartner's Igou says.\u201cTake Solaris. Sun open sources it. Does it fall by the wayside? Do they continue to develop it and put important technologies into it? Is it well maintained?\u201d he says. These are things users need to explore.Burton Group's Monson-Haefel says users should be concerned if a product they're using is suddenly released to the open source community. "I would hold suspect any company that suddenly open sources their product and gives it away to community. I would hold suspect not only their motivations, but the future of that particular project," Monson-Haefel says.Of course, there are exceptions. It's not always a bad omen -- IBM\u2019s open sourcing of the Eclipse development environment "was a fantastic and healthy move for entire community and for IBM," Monson-Haefel says.