Changing Trend of Commercial Acceptance of Open Source Products


Kallol Nandi
CEO and Chief Architect
Initechs, LLC
Marietta, GA, USA
Kallol@initechs.com

Abstract— This paper presents a general software selection process used by enterprises, and how Open Source Products (OSP) are making a permanent position in the market place. It discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using Open Source Product in compare to Proprietary Software Product (PSP). As the outlook of software users are changing software manufacturers are trying to satisfy the users in many ways. Open Source Product is one such initiative and as this is getting matured, it is replacing the proprietary software.

Now-a-days all software are developed as a collaborative efforts both for OSP and PSP. OSP has greater reach to the contributors community, but PSP has better control over its developments. However, as software standards are getting matured and industries are becoming much more collaborative, applications are becoming organized collection of software components. A significant number of open source software products are considered equally good as compared to its proprietary software competitors.

I. INTRODUCTION

As software standards and protocols are getting matured day by day, software industry is becoming more collaborative, and software applications are being developed as an organized collection of software components. Open Architecture, Open Standards, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), Web Services, Web 2.0, Multi-way real-time communications tools and protocols are allowing software developers to create their software independently, but allowing them to be integrated easily with other enterprise applications following industry standard protocols.

Software application’s functionalities are not the only factor for it to be selected by an enterprise. Interoperability, collaboration, ease of integration, and adaptability are the different aspects of the nature of openness of a software application, and which play extremely important roles in software selection process.
Additionally, enterprises are trying not to be locked in with proprietary software. Due to global recessions, economical pressure, and global competitions, enterprises are seriously considering alternative software applications. Industries are focusing on usability, security, collaboration, interoperability, and low cost technology neutral software rather than proprietary software.

Software developers are also focusing on publishing their software by adhering open standards so that their software can be easily integrated with other applications of an enterprise.
Open Source Software community has made their position in the industry very clearly and they are progressing much faster than their counter part, proprietary software community, in many cases. In some situations Open Source Software is much ahead in its competition, such as, Linux, Apache HTTP Server etc.

II. A TYPICAL SOFTWARE SELECTION PROCESS

During the software evaluation process, enterprise evaluates all available software with various aspects and from different perspectives; these aspects include features, costs, technology, and maintainability. Enterprise software selection process generally a 6 steps process.

Step I - Planning & Budgeting for Software - In this step, internal planning takes place by core project team headed by project sponsor, and a high-level budget is set.

Step II - Software Requirements Analysis - In this step, business requirements documents are prepared. Focus is given to the key differentiating criteria so that products can be evaluated quickly and thoroughly.

Step III - Software Vendor Research – In this step, expert team evaluates vendor options and focuses on how to narrow down a long list of vendors to a handful of software solutions efficiently.

Step IV - Software Evaluation - Generally this step involves seeing demo of the product, and playing with the prospective software in a sandbox environment. With the help of structured demo scripts and evaluation matrices all prospective software solutions are evaluated.

Step V - Software Decision - In this step, due diligence is performed and final decision is made.

Step VI - Software Contract Negotiation – In this step, project sponsor negotiates the contract to protect enterprise's interests and save money.

III. ADVANTAGES OF USING OPEN SOURCE PRODUCTS/SOFTWARE

We will discuss about Step III through Step VI and show why Open Source Products have inherent competitive advantages compared to their Proprietary Software Products competitors.

A. Define Open Source Products/Software: Even though there is no universally agreed upon definition of “Open Source Products” or “Open Source Software”, industry considers when a software is published with its source codes in a human readable format, it can be used without any license fee paid by the user to the publisher regardless the software is used for profit or not, and the publisher permits users to study, change, improve, sell (and distribute), is an Open Source Software.

B. Cost Advantage: There is no hefty license cost to use open source product. The cost of implementation, customization, and integration are generally comparable for both OSP and PSP in most cases.

C. Functionality Comparison: Most open source developers publish the functionality without the marketing sugar coats on it. So it is much easier to understand what the software can do and if it will serve the purposes of its use in the enterprise. In addition, you will find a plenty of unbiased community opinions.

D. Low Support Cost: The support costs of OSP are generally a fraction compared of its proprietary counterparts. The low cost does not mean lack of quality. The primary reasons for low cost are: not having monopoly on the software (even though it may be developed by a company), and low sells and marketing costs which is generally recovered from support revenue.

E. Better Longevity: Longevities of open source and proprietary software are same. Since the source codes are at your disposal and good technical resources are available at an affordable cost, most likely you will improvise the software based on your needs much easily than what you will do in case of a proprietary software product, so it is very logical to think that the open source product will have a better longevity.

F. Reliability Judgements: Community comments are the best way to judge the reliability of any software product. You can see how issues (bugs) were reported by the users and how efficiently they were addressed and fixed. More issues do not necessarily indicate that the product is unreliable. Generally, all information of an open source product are at your disposal, whereas, in case of proprietary software product, you have to rely on vendor’s dis-closers and how they disclose to you.

G. Performance Benchmarks: A greater variety of performance results for open sources are available than its proprietary counterparts. Based on the circumstances, open source products are being used wide varieties of hardware and network infrastructure applicable to that particular software product, which is virtually impossible for any company to conduct such performance tests.

H. Security Aspects: The security aspects of both type of software are same; they are equally secured and/or equally vulnerable. Since the source codes are open to you and others, you will naturally have a sense of insecurity that a hacker can break into your network and applications. But that fact is that, proprietary software installations were hacked more than open source product installation. In case of open source, you would know and validate the security that was built into the application and you can install the software in appropriate network node, in case of proprietary software, you have to completely rely on what the software vendor tells you.

I. Easy Customization: All modern software applications are very customizable, and it is true for both types of software applications. Since the source codes of OSP are available to users, users have a greater flexibility of customizing OSP compare to the PSP.

J. Greater Interoperability: In today’s heterogeneous network infrastructure, interoperability is utmost important aspect of a software application. It is generally true that, since the open source uses standard protocols and well established open tools and techniques, it will naturally have a greater interoperability.

K. Legality: The legal hassles, in terms of having unauthorized copies, breach of licenses, unintentional copyright forging are all almost eliminated when you use open source product.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Open Source Products are making its Own Place
It is imminent that OSP has advantages over its competitor PSP. However, there are a lot to fulfill before an enterprise selects a software product for its business. First and foremost thing is accountability. When OSP initially came in the market, it gained popularity among software developers more than end users. Software developers found endless opportunities to work on new tools, frameworks, and derive new set of tools, re-usable containers, etc. It took about a decade for the enterprise world to see the maturity and the power of collaborative works and on the other side software producers to realize the software is becoming a commodity or an appliance (sort of). In recent times, many software producers are making software as an OSP, and charging clients 1) for maintenance and support, and 2) “Freemium” [base product is free as it is an OSP but advance features and connectivity adapters are not free], a mixed blend of OSP and PSP. This model serves two purposes, a) software manufacturers are getting some sure revenues, and b) enterprises are finding the sense of accountability from the vendors’ side.

B. Open Source Products are gaining Market Share
"Open Source software is raising havoc throughout the software market," said Jim Johnson, Chairman, The Standish Group International, Boston, MA. He mentioned, “It is the ultimate in disruptive technology, and while to it is only 6% of estimated trillion dollars IT budgeted annually, it represents a real loss of $60 billion in annual revenues to software companies."
With the global economic downturn (mostly in the western world where high value software are built and used), enterprises are looking for low cost alternative that does not compromise with functionalities, usability, reliability, security, and can be easily integrated and customized. OSP captured a sweet spot in the market place and continually growing.

V. OPEN SOURCE AT GOVERNMENT SECTORS

In recent times, governments are seriously looking at the OSP as their preferred solution, including the field of digital securities. This initiative turns OSP at a different level.
Open Source for America (OSFA) [3] was founded with the help of 72 members comprised of commercial IT companies, individuals, non-profit organizations and foundations, educational institutes, and law professionals, and now has 110 organizational members (as of August 13, 2011).

Open Source for America was created by leading organizations and individuals who actively support and publish open source products. Its motto: “The mission of OSFA is to educate decision makers in the U.S. Federal government about the advantages of using free and open source software; to encourage the Federal agencies to give equal priority to procuring free and open source software in all of their procurement decisions; and generally provide an effective voice to the U.S. Federal government on behalf of the open source software community, private industry, academia, and other non-profits.”

According to Gartner’s estimation more than 25 percent of government vertical, domain-specific applications will either be open source, contain open source application components or be developed as community source by 2011. US government being the largest buyer and consumer of IT products by any measure, as government sectors will adopt OSP, more companies will adopt OSP and the pseudo fear factors will disappear.

VI. FEW SHORT CASE STUDIES AND ANALYSIS

In many cases, software users fall under 90-10 rule; that says 90% users use 10% features of a software (called commonly used features). For example, using Microsoft Word a national news paper can be composed and printed. It is seriously doubted if any company other than Microsoft use those features for such complex and advance purposes. What majority of users use Microsoft Office for, can be done using Open Office product. For low end usage, like general office works (Open Office), sound editing (Audacity), FTP (File Zilla), creating and manipulating PDF (Primo PDF, and PDF Sam respectively), a better version of notepad (notepad++), etc are sufficient.

Open Source Products are really strong and has a (going to be, if not already) dominating market share web related platform and development tools. The list truly starts from Linux as operation system, Apache as web server, Firefox as web browser, Java and PHP as languages, MySQL and PostGreSQL as Databases, and it goes on and on. Today’s most popular frameworks, development tools, workbenches are all OSP.

As discussed earlier, OSP manufacturers are making the enterprise grade applications and those are becoming popular day by day, such as SugarCRM (Customer Resource Management application), OpenSIS (Student Information System), Open Bravo and Compiere (ERP), TEMS (Time and Expense Management System), are examples of few.

A. Market Share for Top Servers Across All Domains from August 1995 - August 2011.
Open source trends graph
Netcraft’s survey published Augugt 2011 polled all web sites they could find (totaling 463,000,317 sites), and found that of all the sites they could find, counting by name, Apache had 65.18% of the market.

REFERENCES

[1] Guido van Rossum, Published in “Issue 28 of Linux Gazette”, May 1998 http://linuxgazette.net/issue28/rossum.html
[2] Richard Rothwell, Published in “Free Software Magazine”, 5th August, 2008 http://fsmsh.com/2845
[3] Open Source For America, http://opensourceforamerica.org/

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