What is really driving open source adoption?

Read time 3min 10sec

Open source has come of age. It now represents the fastest growing segment of enterprise IT initiative and it has become the lingua franca for developers.

This growth and acceptance has occurred despite one of the initial rationales for businesses going the open source route - cost - barely playing a role in these decisions any more.

As Mike Matchett, senior analyst and consultant at the US-based Taneja Group pointed out, when it comes to cost, open source doesn't mean "free" in a real economic sense.

"Open source strategies require cutting-edge expertise, professional support and often buy-up into proprietary enterprise-class feature sets. The truth is, open source platforms don't necessarily maximise ROI," he added.

Matchett believed that open source strategies created attractive opportunities for businesses that want to evolve their aging applications. However, he warned that this was easier said than done.

"We've seen many enterprises fumble with aggressive open source strategies, eventually reverting to tried-and-true proprietary software stacks," he said.

Software-driven markets

Looked at objectively, there are several other reasons why the uptake of open source could be considered surprising.

Matt Asay, who has more than a decade open source experience under his belt and is currently Head of Developer Ecosystem at Adobe, said one downside to open source is that it required more work than proprietary software.

"You have to put more work into documentation; and you have to clean up the code because you are going to be putting it on display," he explained.

What about the security risk associated with open source? Open source detractors regard its broad developer base and open source code as a potential security risk; while open source proponents maintain that because open source code is open for anyone to look at, its security will have been subjected to greater and more worthwhile scrutiny.

Asay dismissed both notions.

"All software has bugs, regardless of whether it is open source or proprietary. While some people say that open source has fewer bugs, it actually doesn't matter. What really matters is what you can do about the security flaw once it has been reported.

"In a proprietary software situation, you have to wait for the vendor to fix it for you. In an open source world, you can go out and make that fix immediately - provided you have the developer skills and participated in the relevant community for the software, and have contributed to the open source project so that you are familiar with the code. Otherwise you are just a bystander and you have to wait like everyone else for someone else to fix it for you," Asay said.

Asay maintained that in the current environment in which virtually every market is being driven by software, businesses needed more and better skilled developers.

And the best way to attract the cream of the crop, he said, was to go the open source route. "It's a fantastic recruiting and retention tool for your developers." he added.

Matchett agreed. "Smart people want to work in an open source environment so they can develop in-demand skills, establish broader relationships outside a single company and potentially contribute back to a larger community. In other words, organisations adopt open source because that's what today's prospective employees want to work on," he concluded.

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