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Open-Source Software & Strategies

Definition

Software is classified as Open Source Software (OSS) when it satisfies the following conditions (simplified, according to the GNU General Public License v2):1)

  • The source code is available in human-readable form
  • The Software may be copied, distributed and used freely
  • The may be changed and redistributed in the changed form

Widely known examples of OSS Software are:

  • The GNU/Linux Operating System
  • The Mozilla Firefox Web-Browser
  • The OpenOffice.org Productivity Suite

Impact of Open-Source Software

The importance of Open Source Software has been increasing at an astounding rate, starting with the formation of the “Open Source Initiative” in 1998.2)

OSS has increased its market share in various areas of the software infrastructure market. A few important segments are entirely dominated by OSS, such as Website Storage – The OSS “Apache Web server” has a current market share of ~65% (August 2011) in that segment.3)

Strategies

Because of OSS's enormous impact on the software infrastructure market, companies like Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) have been steadily working on developing strategies to deal with the perceived “threat” of OSS.

Microsoft tried to utilize the “FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt” for quite some time, to no avail. In recent years, Microsoft has changed course, creating their own OSI-accredited OSS License (MS-PL)4), as well as sharing Protocol Specifications and HW Definitions with OSS Developers.

Sam Ramji, newly appointed Director of Microsoft's Open-Source-Lab, when interviewed by the “Heise Open Source Magazine”, lists the following example: “The most commonly used Database is probably MySQL. But what happens when a company recognized that MySQL no longer suits their purposes and development goals ? If the company is running MySQL on Linux, they are very likely to consider Oracle DB or IBMs DB2, running on Linux. But if their PLATFORM is running Windows, Microsoft's SQL Server suddenly becomes an options.”5)

This symbolizes the recent change in Microsoft's course towards OSS. Instead of fighting the OSS ecosystem, they are trying to merge their own Ecosystem into it, using their products strength instead of trying to utilize OSS's weaknesses. This leads to steadily increasing interoperability between the Windows and Linux PLATFORMS, therefore strengthening Microsoft's Position as a software platform provider, instead of weakening it.

IBM also utilized the aforementioned FUD strategies, seeing themselves more as a software, not a hardware platform provider. The sentence “If an open source software solution breaks, who's gonna fix it?” is most widely attributed to a Mircosoft Video, but was also used by IBM sales personel trying to sell the IBM AIX software platform. In recent years, IBM has changed its strategy, even becoming the largest commercial contributor to Linux Kernel code.

An entirely different example of OSS Strategies is Hewlett Packard (HP). As a pure hardware platform provider, their interests and therefore their strategies were very different from the beginning.

The more software platforms are supported by the hardware produced, the bigger the market share, regardless of the utilized software that runs on it. Furthermore, sponsoring and getting involved in OSS Development meant that the produced hardware platforms were leading in OSS support, and with the rapid spread of OSS, the spread of HP hardware platforms could grow rapidly.

Today HP sponsors organizations such as the “Apache Software Foundation”, the “Linux Foundation” and the “Free Software Foundation”, and contributes to the Linux Kernel.

Summary

While most strategies of traditional, closed source software or hardware platform providers was initially aimed at keeping the unwanted competitor OSS out of their relevant market shares, the collective knowledge, skills and time of millions of contributors to OSS lead to the inevitable adaptation of strategies that were less destructive and aimed at strengthening a common ecosystem, leading to interesting synergetic effects for both the closed and open source software infrastructures, generating new business opportunities and entire industries, such as hard- and software certification institutes.

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open_source_software.txt · Last modified: 2014/10/19 13:28 (external edit)