When FOSS Became Mainstream

With so much turbulence going on in the FOSS world these days — let’s not even mention the “U” word this week, shall we? — it’s always nice when a straightforward and unambiguous piece of good news comes along.

That, fortunately, was just what happened last week during the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco, where North Bridge Venture Partners announced the results of its annual “Future of Open Source Survey.”

“When we started this survey five years ago, open source was still a movement that was in its nascent stages and its future was promising but still unknown,” said Michael Skok, a general partner with North Bridge. “Since then, the survey has documented the steady rise of open source.

“The results of this year’s survey clearly demonstrate that open source has gone mainstream, not just within the vendor community, but within customer organizations of all types and sizes,” Skok added.

More Than Half of Software Purchases

In a nutshell, North Bridge’s survey found that FOSS is being welcomed with open arms in myriad business organizations today — not just for its lower costs, but even more for the freedom from vendor lock-in that users enjoy.

Certainly one of the most exciting statistics to come out of the survey is that a full 56 percent of respondents said they believe more than half of software purchases made in the next five years will be for open source software.

The writing is on the wall, North Bridge’s survey suggests. It wasn’t long before the sound of thundering hooves was echoing throughout the blogosphere as Linux geeks far and wide galloped forth to have their say.

‘It’s Starting to Seep Out Into the Desktop’

“Free from vendor lock is right,” agreed HankRearden in the PCWorld comments, for example. “That is my best answer for why to switch as well.

“The software is also much better than it was just a few years ago,” HankRearden added. “Ubuntu 11.04 with LibreOffice 3.2 is absolutely ready for prime time as far as my needs are concerned. Nothing in our office demands features unique to Microsoft office.”

Similarly, “I work for a Fortune 20 company whose revenue last year topped $100 billion,” offered linuxrants7xpg. “I work in the IT department, and I can say that we make extensive use of Open Source software. Mostly we use it in the server room(s), but it’s starting to seep out into the Desktop environment as well.”

‘We Would Not Be in Business Today’

Even more so: “I’ve run my personal business on open source and Linux since 2001, and I can tell you for sure that we would not be in business today if we would have selected Microsoft’s software at the time we were founded,” wrote Chris in the comments on Yahoo News.

“Using open source and Linux has allowed us to run efficient and without all of the extra bloat and political issues with Microsoft software,” Chris added.

Like-minded sentiments could be heard down at the blogosphere’s Open Doors Saloon and beyond, so Linux Girl took full advantage of the opportunity to learn more.

‘Revisionist or Ignorant’

By calling the open source industry “nascent,” North Bridge’s Skok is “either engaging in revisionist history or being incredibly ignorant,” asserted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

After all, “back in 2004 Microsoft told the SEC that open source was a serious threat to its business,” Hudson pointed out. “Open source was already making serious inroads into some of Microsoft’s key markets, such as servers.”

That was “not the first warning Microsoft had given shareholders,” either, she added. “Just that Microsoft was now listing a litany of threats, including that linux could even threaten its mobile phone business.”

‘Time to Drop That 1 Percent Mantra’

Indeed, “GNU/Linux has been mainstream for many years,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “Ten years ago it was very widely used on servers and began to make inroads on the desktop. The same advantages of cost, reliability and maintainability seen on servers also are achieved on desktops.”

There have been “huge roll-outs in Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, India, China and Malaysia,” Pogson added. “Many other countries have adopted GNU/Linux on the desktop in particular industries.”

Typical market share statistics, however, “neglect most of these because people actually use their desktops behind a firewall to do work,” he asserted. “The web stats reflect more the presence on retail shelves where consumers shop than the universe occupied by GNU/Linux.”

Very likely, in fact, “the number of users of Linux on personal computers will double this year just because of Android,” Pogson predicted.

As a result, “it’s past time to drop that ‘1 percent’ mantra,” he concluded. “In the next year or two, Linux will go to between 10 and 20 percent of all personal computers, counting the smart thingies. The absence of M$ in mobile stuff is allowing Linux to expand into a vacuum limited only by upstream supply shortages this year.”

‘Linux Comes Out the Winner’

Linux’s ascendance “has been building for some time,” concurred Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “First it was Linux with proprietary UNIX applications, then it was web servers. Now businesses are starting to get a hold of the difference between the commercial off-the-shelf model and the open source model.”

It is not a matter of cost, Travers added.

“People are usually willing to pay a premium for freedom and openness, and that comes in the form of services and consulting,” he explained. “The glory of open source is you can get your feet wet usually for very little, and then pay as you see opportunities to enhance your business.

“This is the opposite with commercial off-the-shelf software,” Travers pointed out.

All in all, “what this proves is that in any market based on technical superiority rather than legacy apps, Linux comes out the winner,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined.

Not Yet Mainstream?

Whether FOSS is truly “mainstream,” however, is still a matter of debate.

“Open source technologies may be used more widely today, but sadly in most cases only where it is beneficial to the company at hand,” Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland told Linux Girl.

For instance, “look at the many hardware vendors that create Android devices and lock them down and riddle the system with piles of closed source hardware and drivers,” he suggested.

“I will consider open source ‘mainstream,'” he concluded, “when I no longer have to explain to someone why they cannot play their favorite video games or watch certain streaming media on their open source operating system.”

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