Open Source Software: Sailing Into Friendlier Seas

Open source software is now a force drawing enterprises and developers like a magnet.

The factors pulling adopters into the open source fold are changing, though. Also changing are the attitudes of software developers and corporate leaders about the viability and adaptability of open source.

Open source software is increasingly important within the corporation, as a recent survey conducted by Black Duck Software and North Bridge Venture Partners found.

Developers and corporate leaders now view open source software as a strategic advantage that can help companies create more secure products with better features and functionality. This helps adopters beat the competition.

More first-time developers are using open source, the research indicates. The open source movement over the next few years will gain new industries such as education, healthcare and government. Open source software is powering some of the hottest technologies in the enterprise today, among them cloud computing and the Internet of Things.

The growing trend of open source supplanting proprietary software is not the Black Duck-North Bridge annual survey’s exclusive finding. Other research bears it out.

“It is very consistent with what I see in my own developer surveys and the surveys the Eclipse organization runs on a yearly basis,” said Jeffrey S. Hammond, vice president and principal analyst for application development and delivery professionals at Forrester Research.

The Changing Face of OSS Importance

There’s been a sea change in terms of IT department and enterprise support for considering open source software first, the Black Duck-North Bridge survey found, and it is having a significant impact on proprietary software.

For example, consider Microsoft’s journey over the past 10 years, suggested Hammond. Microsoft changed from labeling open source software “a cancer” to starting up and integrating its products with numerous OSS projects like Linux and Git.

“Most enterprise clients also choose open source projects like Tomcat or Linux and even prefer it in some areas like NoSQL and DBMSes,” he told LinuxInsider.

Survey Highlights

The number and the range of responders in the 2014 survey changed dramatically. This year, there were 1,240 participants. The 2011 survey, in contrast, drew responses from 453 companies. This year, vendors made up 58 percent. Non-vendors comprised 42 percent.

The OSS survey is now a decade old. Originally, it was very vendor dominated, according to Michael Skok, a general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners.

In addition to IT professionals and software engineers, this year’s survey respondents included CIOs, analysts and marketing execs. CEOs, sales and business execs, educators and other professionals also participated.

“The big difference now is that it is not just technology dominated,” Skok told LinuxInsider.

Attractions Morphing

Ten years ago, the major focus of interest in open source was the desire to look at the code — but that is not the primary reason for interest in open source today. One of the big attractions of open source is its influence on innovation, noted Skok.

“More projects have started that now lead the innovation. Corporations now want to be in the forefront with using that innovative technology,” he said.

Another element of change is the attitude business leaders now have about the quality of open source software. It is regarded as being on a par with or better than proprietary, according to Bill Weinberg, senior director at Black Duck Consulting.

“The migration from proprietary to open source is very real,” he told LinuxInsider.

Survey Says

A major trend in OSS adoption is no longer its free or low-cost buy-in rate. Instead, quality counts more than dollars, the survey revealed.

Some 80 percent of the decision makers selected open source software for its quality, saying that competitive features and technical capabilities were the most important factor when choosing open source over proprietary software.

That result further backs the idea that companies see OSS as having a more strategic role than lowering costs or helping with recruiting. However, other key factors also have an impact on the importance of open source software.

Maturity Delivers

One key factor is the ability to access code. It was the eighth contributing factor in last year’s survey, but this year it jumped to fourth place.

“Open source is pervasive even in proprietary environments. You gain so many advantages by having more eyes on the code. You have more people testing it. Open source just becomes so compelling,” said Weinberg.

Another growth-and-adoption factor is open source’s competitiveness. Some 80 percent of the respondents cited the ability of open source software to equal or exceed the competitive features and technical capabilities of proprietary software.

Spreading the Word

Perhaps one of the more significant trends revealed in this latest open source survey is its deployability. Open source software is easy to deploy within an organization. This reason for adopting OSS rose from sixth place last year to third place in the 2014 survey.

“We are seeing the use of open source in broad ways. More developers are making applications that fit more user needs,” said Skok.

No one entity pushed open source — a number of alliances formed along the way, he noted. No one vendor rose to the top.

Community Action

The No. 1 factor in the explosion of small open source projects is first-time developers participating in open source. More than 50 percent of all enterprises are expected to adopt and contribute to open source.

The study underscored the self-generating process that has become attached to open source adoption.

The more people see companies adopting open source, the more it encourages others to check it out, explained Weinberg.

One big difference now for companies adopting open source is their yearning to get involved. Developers want to work with the latest and greatest projects, added Skok.

“This is a very big part of the growth pattern we are seeing,” he said.

Awareness Sells

Another significant trend reflected in the current OSS survey is the growth in consumer awareness of open source. That factor rose from fifth place last year to third place this year.

This change in feeling is a combination of the rise in quality, changing business needs and OSS’ maturity. It did not happen overnight. There was no big bang.

“This was a gradual process during which open source delivered a clear messaging and position,” Weinberg said. “It simply made its way incrementally into organizations. It became part of the tech companies and gradually took over roles previously handled by proprietary software. It became the foundation for further investments as it made its way all the way up to the top of the stack.”

Favorite Factors

The survey participants placed a high value on the ability of open source to free up time and money for innovation. More than half of all responding companies said they were trying to create new products and services based on open source.

Better security is yet another key reason for the growth in adoption of open source software. Seventy-two percent of survey responders chose open source because of its ability to provide stronger security than proprietary solutions.

Nearly half of those responding saw open source as giving them a competitive advantage. Forty-five percent of participants said that was why they adopted open source. They credited OSS with playing a strategic role in their company’s success.

While no longer the primary driver of adoption, cost reduction was still credited as the top factor in OSS’ importance by 61percent of participants. Finding and recruiting talent fell from the No. 2 response in 2013 to the No. 5 response this year, with 37 percent choosing it as the top reason for using open source software.

The growing use of the cloud in many industries is also a deciding factor in adopting open source software. For example, 63 percent responded that OSS is leading cloud computing and virtualization technology development.

A Changing Sea

The survey results signal more than just a greater interest within the enterprise in moving toward the Linux OS and away from Microsoft and Apple for office workers.

The open source sea change is more complex, in Hammond’s view.

“We have seen strong moves away from Unix variants toward Linux,” he said, “but also the growth of mobile and tablet OSes like Android. Windows usage has declined in our data, but it is as much about substitution of device form factors as it is about operating system substitution.”

This change in attitude reflects more than interest in open source as a cost-savings opportunity. Businesses are becoming more sensitive to the innovations in OSS communities and the value of social development that occurs, Hammond said.

“The more sophisticated ones want to tap into that dynamic as much, if not more, than they want to reduce costs,” he remarked.

Competitors Become Cohorts

It used to be that companies would allow employees to work on open source projects only grudgingly. They had to keep a low profile. Workers could do it on their own time but not put their company’s name on it. That has changed.

“Now, working on open source projects is done under the corporate banner,” noted Weinberg. “There is open sponsorship. This has become increasingly important in attracting quality engineers to an organization. The survey bears out this incremental change.”

OSS has a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle — foundation, proliferation, democratization and participation — that drives its continued growth in industry and enterprise, according to Skok.

This cycle feeds new areas of innovation, like the IoT, which requires interoperability and extensibility that can be met only through open source initiatives, he said. This led to the rise of new developer groups such as the AllSeen Alliance.

Closed Source No Longer Pure

The impact that open source has on proprietary software is bringing about drastic changes to closed source products. Open source is not uniformly supplanting proprietary platforms. It is often integrated with them.

Because of the way applications are built and distributed, as well as the infrastructure they are built upon, any software today is very likely to have open source components in it or depend on open source software or services to apply, according to Weinberg.

“We see little true proprietary software any more. There are very few 100 percent proprietary products in the market,” he said.

Opening Proprietary Lineage

Another good example of how deeply rooted open source has become is Amazon. Its software is built on open source elements, but the platform itself is proprietary, Weinberg explained.

The same can be said about Google’s Android platform. Even if the platform is open source and it uses open source libraries, some of the apps running on it are proprietary, he added.

“In enterprise, you see people writing Web apps in PHP. It may not be open source in the community sense,” Weinberg noted, “but it is certainly built on open source components with open source compilers — and everything about the language is open source.”

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

1 Comment

  • I have been using many open source programs for business and pleasure. I started when I did not want to pay MicrSlop the price for Office, instead used OpenOffice and now LibreOffice. Also on my phone I use WPS (used to be Kingsoffice) that is really great.

    There are many excellent free open source programs for me (and maybe you) that give excellent results.

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