There is still a lot of hesitancy among commercial users over taking on open source software, says Bill Roth.
The way to overcome it is for industry to invest in the open-source communities. This is the surest way of boosting the percentage of “trusted” open source applications.
Roth, now vice-president in charge of BEA’s Workshop products, launched and ran openoffice.org at Sun. His open source record dates from his graduate days, when he worked on the gcc compiler.
The open-source community cannot exist without financial support, says Roth. By investing in building that population of highly regarded open-source products, like Apache, the commercial vendors will be amply repaid.
At present, the population of trusted open-source software is steadily rising, but probably not at a greater rate than the total population of such products, he says. The percentage of top-rank applications that commercial users feel safe taking on is probably staying about constant, he says.
One of the chief reasons for hesi-tancy is an understandable unwillingness “to trust critical business assets to a bunch of Finnish graduate students,” Roth says. “As a customer, I want a suit and tie [who] I can sue if anything goes wrong.”
The other main reason is “the ill-defined regime around intellectual property rights,” he says. “The case law on these matters is virtually non-existent” and while everyone wants the picture to be more definite, no one wants to be an early test case.
Access to the source is important for some users who believe they can make enhancements or fix problems more quickly by relying on their own resources and those of the developer community than relying on a commercial vendor.
One of the biggest attractions is, naturally, low up-front cost, and this is particularly popular with government agencies.
For some governments, however, like the Germans using Suse Linux, “use it to encourage local economic development. It’s a question of helping out the home team.”
There is no such thing as “the open-source business model”, Roth says. “There’s one business model — sell it for more than it cost you.” Unfortunately, only a few open-source developers, such as Red Hat and the Chinese Linux distribution Red Flag, have actually made that principle work.
Bell travelled to Sydney courtesy of BEA