The changing role of open source software

by Jim Alateras

The role of open source software has changed over the past 10 years. Initially it was the domain of the alpha geeks and hackers motivated by the need to 'scratch an itch'. Today most successful open source initiatives are backed by large ISVs and industry consortiums. The other significant change is that open source, which primarily focused on developing commodity style software (long tail) is now targeting the vertical market.

Six years ago I worked on OpenJMS, and open source messaging product for the OEM market. Today, I am currently working on a open source CMS application sponsored by a consortium of veterinaries. Why? The reason is that the stakeholders believe that the core features of the CMS will not offer their business a competitive advantage so they view it as a point of collaboration. A CMS that is flexible, customizable, extensible is paramount to their business. From the veterinary's perspectives the ISVs in this space have failed to deliver software with these attributes along with an affordable pricing model. The software moves from the hands of the small to the hands of the many, which is all good for the customer. The customer still requires support and enhancements but they are not tied in to the resource limitations or resource schedule of a single company. They now have many more options.

The open source model is not always the right approach and many open source software initiatives have failed for one reason or another...just look at 80% of the projects at sourceforge. The role that open source software plays has changed and will continue to change as the industry changes. Are we cutting our own throats by promoting open source software? I don't believe so. Instead it is opening up a whole lot of new opportunities for those innovative and brave enough to exploit them.