Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oracle Comments on Open Source Movement

Magazine solicited comments from a variety of geospatial software solution providers on the announcement by Autodesk to place MapGuide in the public domain. ESRI, Intergraph, and IBM declined to comment.Oracle's Jim Steiner, Senior Director of product management of Oracle's Server Technologies division provided these insights:

Magazine: How will Autodesk decision to open source its Web mapping product impact the marketplace? Will it matter for MapGuide users, for example?

Steiner: Oracle agrees it is important that map visualization and web mapping become ubiquitous in order to properly facilitate the use of and take advantage of the value of spatial information. This is the reason we include spatial capabilities in all our products. For some time, Oracle has offered our Oracle MapViewer as a no cost feature of the Oracle Application Server and Oracle JDeveloper toolset. Both are free of charge to developers through Oracle Technology Network and the Oracle Application Server Java Edition can be embedded by partners at no cost.

I believe this decision means that MapGuide users specifically and Autodesk users in the large will have more choice and greater portability. These are good things for users.

Magazine: Is Web mapping in fact a commodity as Autodesk suggested? Are such commodities the "right thing "to open source? (live Web servers or databases?)

Steiner: Since every geospatial tool and data provider includes web mapping as part of their products, it is probably fair to say that it has become a commodity. But this doesn't mean that they are all identical or that companies won't be able to offer added value features to base web mapping servers.

Webster defines a commodity as "a mass-produced unspecialized product." Whether this product is delivered through open source or through commercial vendors is not really germane; what is important is the breadth of use of the technology. Email is considered a commodity and there are both commercial and Open Source implementations that are widely used. Most important is how the web mapping technology becomes mainstream and ubiquitous. Oracle's goal is that location technology becomes a ubiquitous, mainstream capability available for every application. There are many ways that this may be achieved. We include location capabilities throughout our technology stack as no cost features.

The question of whether products should be developed and supported through open source is not a "right thing" or "wrong thing". The Minnesota Mapserver is only one of many Open Source web map servers that have been available for some time and has contributed to the ubiquity of mapping services. Open Source is one important and powerful software development and distribution model among many. It is only natural that companies find this model an appealing way to address their users' needs.

Magazine: Is this perhaps the start of something bigger? Might we see other geo companies dive in, just as Sun and IBM seem to be having a race to open source more code?

Steiner: I believe that this is continuation of an activity that has been growing for some time. As you know, Oracle is deeply committed to enabling, adopting, promoting, and developing viable open source technologies so that customers can deploy those in a business critical environment, with confidence.Oracle invests significant resources in testing, optimizing, enhancing, and supporting many open source technologies such as Linux, PHP scripting language, Eclipse and Apache.So we expect that geo companies will find ways to participate in and make use of the open source model as appropriate.