In the year 2000, some pundits suggested the growing enthusiasm about open source was destined to give out. Once economic conditions returned to pre-dot-com levels, they reasoned, open source would be seen as a fad, just like the pet rock.
Well, the truth was revealed in 2001. When the dot-com bubble burst, fast-flowing venture capitalist money dried up and the endless optimism that surrounded all things technical was replaced by cautious pessimism. So how did the open-source world fare under these harsh conditions?
-- Many open source trade shows either dried up or shrank. Even the king of Linux shows, LinuxWorld, seemed more subdued this year. But although the volume of the hawkers in the booths may have been turned down, the number of real business discussions on the trade floor seemed to increase.
-- Open-source businesses downsized. Linux stalwarts LinuxCare, VA Linux (now called VA Software), SuSE, and others found they needed to reduce staff to weather the financial storm. But unlike the dot-com world, only a very few companies, such as Eazel and Atipa, closed up shop entirely.
-- IBM continued its investment in Linux and open source. Big Blue's Linux billboards and TV commercials helped propel Linux into the mainstream consciousness. And the port of Linux to IBM mainframes created an entirely new market for the computer giant: mainframe-based server-farm consolidation.
-- The animation industry continued its trek toward Linux. Leading animation studio DreamWorks used Linux-based rendering solutions for the production of the box-office smash Shrek.
-- Many new and improved business apps took the stage, including Ximian's Evolution (similar to Outlook), Galeon (a strong, compact browser based on the Mozilla engine), and KDE 2.2. Mozilla and OpenOffice made great strides toward full functionality. In fact, more open-source developers were working on business applications than ever before.
-- People stopped talking about Beowulf compute clusters because everyone was too busy building and installing them. Outside of the scientific community, where Beowulf clusters are now commonplace, the financial industry began to take note of the power of affordable parallel computing.
So what is the verdict? The harsh financial climate of 2001 may have put the squeeze on open-source companies, as it did on most computer companies, but it did not dampen the adoption rate of open source in business. In fact, 2001 was the first year when an open-source solution could be proposed without drawing snickers or aghast looks from management.
The hype surrounding open source did not survive the year. But open source itself not only survived, it began to thrive in the business world.
I can hardly wait to see what next year brings.
Pavlicek is an independent open-source consultant. Send email to Russell Pavlicek.