Software as bottled water and the importance of open file formats

The CIO Staff call on open source software (previously blogged here) turned out to be a lively and very instructive teleconference – it is my distinct impression that Open Source software is turning into a real factor in corporate IT, and that the next year will see some very interesting developments that should give a number of proprietary software vendors reason to start thinking about their value proposition. There are a number of large international corporations that are trying out Linux on the desktop as a new standard, a number of software platforms and packages are expected to go open source, and the legal situation (which, indidentally, is the major reason for delaying open sourcing of existing stuff) is getting disentangled.
Bill Vass had an interesting analogy to open source software: Bottled water. You can bottle your own water if you like, but if you buy it from a company you get the guarantee that it is OK by their standards. And you get someone you can sue.
Most of all, I think the difference between Open Source software and free software (i.e., that one is not necessarily the other) is increasingly understood in large corporations. Secondly, the very key point that having open file formats – and everyone toeing the line and not creating proprietary or undocumented extensions to them – is more important than open sourcing of the programs themselves.
Other little tidbits:
- beware of companies offering software that will only run under certain versions of Linux – that probably means they have proprietary extensions to Linux that can lock you in later
- indemnification is important – a serious Open Source vendor will guarantee you that their “IP is clean”, to quote Eirik Chambe-Eng
- China has purchased a staggering number of Linux “seats”
- The development model works in some cases – the spell checker for openoffice.org was proprietary for a while, until a Taiwanese university wrote oen (in several languages) as a graduate CS student excercise
- otherwise, don’t expect the community to develop the software for you (but they will do QA)
- Linux is showing up in a number of devices, such as the TiVO or the Buffalo Linkstation – one question is whether this furthers the development of the software, since most users of these devices won’t even know that they are running Linux
To me, this looks like the year of Open Source and Linux. Or maybe next year, again. But this is definitely coming…..

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