OSS support could foster Kiwi talent

An opportunity exists for Kiwis to develop and support a growing range of open source applications, says an IBM specialist, but we should watch for rivalry from large open source-disposed markets like China and India.

An opportunity exists for Kiwis to develop and support a growing range of open source applications, says an IBM specialist, but we should watch for rivalry from large open source-disposed markets like China and India.

The key drivers for wider acceptance of open source software (OSS) will be the availability of strong applications and “application services” in the form of well-coordinated support and development, says IBM Linux programme director Mary Ann Fisher.

In an interview after her address to the Govis-organised government and open systems seminar, the US-based Fisher put a more positive face on her applications comment. Speaking to Computerworld at the conference she called it “a gating factor” that might handicap the widespread and quick adoption of OSS.

“I see Linux as accepted in the server space and a rock-solid performer. There are probably niches like the desktop where it is still not seen as a safe option.”

Developments such as SAP R/3 on Linux offer not only a potential boost for OSS but an opportunity for local OSS-oriented specialists to provide supporting expertise, she says.

At the seminar Fisher was one of the few speakers to refer explicitly to government use of OSS. She showed examples of central and local government agencies from the US to Europe and Brazil which had enthusiastically taken up, and even mandated, open source.

The German government in particular has a “leadership view” of establishing itself with as much local expertise in open source as in Microsoft systems.

Some discussion surrounded whether the European trend was partly a politically motivated move, in line with displeasure about US military actions. But Fisher sees it as due to the strengths in the software itself and in its comparatively low cost at a time when many national economies are “stalled”.

The big areas of Linux success beyond those well-established like the Apache web server will be in consolidation of low-cost servers into one enclosure — a new role for the “mainframe” — in clustering, in industries with a heavy distribution emphasis, such as education in particular applications and in infrastructure. Since Linux “runs on virtually anything”, it liberates the user from specific hardware, Fisher says.

In the later interview she discounted the suggestion that Linux could follow the fate of Unix, splintering into hardware-specific variants as vendors saw advantage in tuning the kernel to their own systems’ strengths. The centrally maintained Linux Standards Base and licensing terms that required developers to return their code to the general pool would prevent that happening, she said.

“If you make it proprietary you shut yourself off from a worldwide marketplace.”

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