OSS applications \'prolific and vital to business\' – report

By   |  September 28, 2004

According to a new report by Computer Sciences Corporation’s Leading Edge Forum (LEF), open source software applications are rapidly increasing in number and type – and they’re already powering both vital government and high-volume consumer systems. Director of LEF Paul Gustafson says that open source movement is producing tremendous gains in efficiency, cost savings and quality, as well as radically changing the way software is developed and marketed.

The report Open Source: Open for Business details how and why

open source has gained strength and offers insight into licensing and legal ramifications of open source software.

According to the report open source software will not displace proprietary software overnight. It says there is plenty of good proprietary software that can and should be deployed. But open source software is an option that organisations need to consider.

Gustafson says the lure of open source is that it\’s free. Anyone can use or modify it without licence fees, and no vendor can lock users in for fixes or enhancements. \”Considering that office suite software can cost roughly $300 per seat – or $3 million in an organisation of 10 000 people – the savings can be significant.

However, savings must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, he says. Costs may decrease in one area with open source but increase in others. No licence fee is just one component of the open source software option.

Gustafson says developers benefit from being part of a global community that recognises and applauds their skills. \”Collaboration is the norm. The community shares and feeds off expertise in a culture that is about participation, not profits. This means that applications are being developed and enhanced, repurposed and debugged constantly.\” Organisations as diverse as Google, Deutsche Börse Group and NASA benefit by getting better products faster with limited up-front investment. Software companies get products to market faster.

\”If you are spending more than $0 to acquire commodity Web server software, you are spending too much,\” says Gustafson. \”Apache, an open source product, has become mature enough and popular enough to make this claim.\”

He says that \”contrary to what one would assume open source applications are highly secure and form the foundation for leading security software packages. CSC\’s H.E.A.T. (Hydra Expert Assessment Technology) application, a security tool used to assess information system vulnerabilities across an enterprise, was developed using open source components. The company cut costs and shaved off significant development time.

“H.E.A.T. would have been developed even if we hadn\’t used open source software, but it would have taken much longer and the product would not be as robust,\” says Jason Arnold, H.E.A.T. program manager. \”Inherently secure code was critical and the developers were comfortable using open source code because so many people review it.

With these benefits, it\’s not surprising that open source plays a key role in applications requiring mission-critical performance. The Associated Press, a major international news disseminator, supports hundreds of thousands of transactions a day with its MySQL database. Google handles some 200 million searches a day using more than 100 000 Linux computers spread across multiple data centres. The U.S. Navy uses the Insight system, created by CSC with more than 150 000 lines of open source code, to manage the operating environment of a large-scale, distributed, real-time computer system, saving millions of dollars in software development costs. NASA uses open source technology for its Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Motorola based its futuristic A760 \”smart phone\” on embedded Linux. Other uses of open source software include financial transactions, the U.S. Army\’s Land Warrior program and personal identification card systems.

Linux, an open source Unix-based system, is the number two server operating system behind Microsoft’s Windows NT and is gaining momentum. Analysts predict that Linux platform revenue will increase at more than four times the overall industry average for all platforms through to 2007.

Other open source software includes middleware like directory services OpenLDAP and cryptography software OpenSSL, server software like JBoss Application Server and Samba for file sharing, and even desktop software like office suite OpenOffice and the browser Mozilla Firefox. The market share of OpenOffice.org is growing as both organisations and consumers adopt it.

\”Open source software development is agile,\” says Gustafson. \”It enables people to bat around and release new ideas unencumbered. In its agility, open source revolutionises software development and fuels innovation.\”

The proliferation of open source applications contributes to commercial software innovation, helps keep commercial software prices in check, promotes \”co-opetition\” or competitors working together in the same direction, drives the development of standards, and has even blurred the line between proprietary and open source products.

The case for open source is strong. However, the report also offers some cautions about the potential pitfalls of open source software. These include the fact that what a company saves in licence fees may be offset by increased technical support, training and transition-related costs.

Open source software may also be free, but it is not free of obligations. Unless the software is placed in the public domain, one’s access is subject to stated conditions of use, or license terms, determined by the owner.

Linux was made available under the General Public License (GPL). While the GPL gives organisations the right to run, modify and distribute the software, it also comes with a catch, called \”copyleft\”. Basically, any new work that contains, in whole or part, software licensed under the GPL must also be licensed under the GPL. So, if a development group adds even a small chunk of Linux code to its software, the source code of the new software must now be shared with everyone else. This approach pleases many but is troubling to organisations that have spent millions of dollars enhancing

open source code to create their own proprietary applications.

As a result, the open source community has created a variety of licensing agreements that help companies protect their proprietary creations based on open source code. These licenses arose from the desire to ensure continued involvement of commercial organisations in open source projects, potentially increasing positive contributions.

The report closes with guidelines for assessing internal software development policies and getting started with open source projects.

Todownload a PDF version of the report Open Source: Open for Business, visit www.csc.com/features/2004/48.shtml.

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