CTOs opening eyes to open source

While open-source technologies did not completely loosen the iron grip of proprietary technologies in 2002, CTOs began to seriously examine the potential of open source.

News perspective: While open-source technologies did not completely loosen the iron grip of proprietary technologies in 2002, CTOs began to seriously examine the potential of open source. Most of the attention focused on Linux development and on several industry organisations devoted to creating open standards around web services.

"With upper management really focusing on driving costs down and ROI, buying strategically into something like Linux [wasn't] such a radical idea at the end of the year," says John Pike, a LAN administrator at Iams in Dayton, Ohio.

Linux got off to a fast start early in the year at the annual LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York. Hewlett-Packard chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina gave a keynote promising aggressive support of Linux and other open-source technologies; IBM announced Raptor, the first Linux-only mainframe; and Computer Associates rolled out over 20 enterprise-class products supporting the open-source operating system.

Sun continued its public feud with IBM over which Linux strategy was more practical and cost effective, promoting its distributed strategy over IBM's mainframecentric approach. The company early in the year delivered a raft of Linux-based products including its iPlanet Application Server for Linux.

Another driving force giving open standards some much-needed direction was the formation of the Web Services Interoperability Organization, whose charter in part is to set development standards around key building blocks including XML, SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL.

The consortium, which now has well over 100 supporters including IBM, Microsoft, HP, and Intel, failed to attract Sun as a supporter in disputes over political matters, although the company may join as a board member through elections early in 2003.

Earlier this year a top IBM official predicted that the widespread adoption of open source and open standards would lead to open-source grid computing, which will shape a host of IT strategies. By end of 2002, IBM gave its grid and autonomic technologies and strategies structure by announcing its On Demand Computing initiative.

HP and Sun also advanced their utility computing initiatives with the rollout of their utility computing model and the N1 strategies respectively. By year's end, some observers felt HP still had a lead over its two rivals in the area of utility computing and that Sun had a more credible story with the server virtualisation and manageability concepts of N1.

Test Centre perspective: Today's roster of leading OSS (open-source software) players looks a lot like yesterday's list of the corporate evil-doers the movement would overthrow. The same can be said of the leadership of relevant standards bodies; there are fewer academics and more captains of industry.

You could say these movements have sold out to corporate interests. You could also say they've grown up and realised that caped crusaders have to pay rent, too.

To say you're "open" these days is to invite deep and immediate scrutiny not just from activists, but from a standards-savvy IT community as well. It takes enormous effort to overcome the accumulated mistrust the OSS and standards communities hold for large corporations.

The company most famous for making openness work as a business model is IBM: It sells network storage appliances built on Linux, and it makes sure third-party Linux distributions run on almost all the hardware IBM sells. IBM garners respect by giving its inventions to Linux (not all of them, but enough) and being frank about Linux's limitations.

In just a couple of years, Apple reversed its historic commitment to closed platforms and embraced OSS and standards to a degree that could shame even IBM. Almost everything in the Mac OS X Server operating systems is published as Darwin, a unique cross-platform blend of the Mac kernel and the BSD 4.4 operating system. Apple kept the GUI and application framework components for itself, but those bits are easy to replace with open code.

The standards community, meanwhile, is adapting to the realities of patents. The granddaddy of standards bodies, the W3C, toyed with and wisely abandoned a policy encouraging the enforcement of patents on contributed technology.

However, intellectual property issues are taking center stage at the W3C and other standards groups. The definition of "open" is once again in flux. It won't be resolved until IT pressures standards bodies to set consistent limits on the encumbrances contributors can attach to their submitted technologies.

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