Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Unhappiness drives open source adoption

A common reason why more governments and enterprises around the world are moving to open source software is unhappiness, it was revealed during a panel discussion at the LinuxWorld Conference in San Francisco yesterday.

Google Inc open source programs manager Chris DiBona said the search giant has stuck with Linux throughout the company's life, in part, because it was unhappy with the terms of another software company.

For instance, DiBona pointed out that if Google used Windows, or any other non-open source software program, to make changes to that system he would be required to essentially ask permission from that vendor. "Why should we hand over the control of our software support to another company?"

Other benefits of Linux for Google was being able to determine exactly what was running on any server at any given time and being able to plan what kind of power that machine would have, according to DiBona. This would not be possible, he said, using proprietary software. "Worse than that, if I want to expand ... I have to rip things out. But why would I want to spend money on something for which I only want to use a small part?"

While showing a slide show of Google's hardware evolution, which began humbly with an odds-and-ends collection of "spare computers that were lying around Stanford" (hobbled together, literally, with pieces of Lego and duct tape) and ended with a present-day photo of Google's current server room (darkened to the point of being indistinguishable, for competitive reasons), DiBona said Google has used Linux all the way.

Research firm and LinuxWorld sponsor IDC projects Linux revenue would reach $35bn worldwide within the next three years. "It's growing twice as fast as Windows," said CEO of Open Source Development Labs Inc Stuart Cohen. "If you're skeptical, just visit the SAP booth -- here for the first time at LinuxWorld."

More governments in the US and elsewhere are adopting Linux and to help pave the way are striking down software patent legislation, said Red Hat VP of corporate affairs Tom Rabon. During the past few months, governments in India and the European Union have struck down software patents and the US Congress is currently considering patent reform, Rabon said.

In addition to reducing total IT purchase costs, governments in several countries have opted for Linux as an economic development decisions, he said. "They hope that open source would encourage [the] growth of an indigenous software industry," he said.

Also, "Unhappiness with the United State's lead in software" is driving some countries' governments to move toward open source, Rabon said. Some governments see open source as "a way to move away from US-based software company products," he said.

More than 125 national open-source policies have been proposed worldwide during the past few years, Rabon said. Governments are using open source to run applications, entire agencies and, in some cases, entire governments. He highlighted the Venezuelan government's decree on July 13 that within 90 days all government institutions in the country must present a migration plan to move to open source software. "This is a presidential mandate ... so we think it's going to happen," he said.