Open source is about more than Linux: Sun

Open source is not about licences, Linux or free things but a common mode of production, according to Sun Microsystem' chief technology evangelist Simon Phipps.

An example of this common mode of production, he said, is extreme programming by a peer group.

"This method often results in software superior to commercial offerings," Phipps told delegates at the Distributed Systems Technology Centre’s (DSTC) Evolve conference on enterprise information integration in Sydney this week.

Sun does not view open source as a “head-long drive to reduce costs”, but rather a way of allowing cooperation between non-competing people, he said.

“There are stages involved with using open source software and many deployment variants,” he said. “These include ‘help yourself’ which involves taking control of open source software development, and ‘customise to product’ which is taking open source code and building commercial software from it.”

Sun’s approach to open source licensing has typically been a dual one, Phipps said.

“Our open source office suite is dual licensed,” he said. “OpenOffice has an open source licence for developers and StarOffice is closed as it is commercially backed by Sun.”

Phills said Sun had conducted a number of surveys of companies that use open source software over commercial offerings, which revealed the principal drivers behind their decisions.

The number one reason companies decide to use open source, he said, is because they are prepared to pay for control.

“Secondly, the quality of open source software is seen as more stable and reliable; then security follows, and then the cost.”

However, because of the possible issues with the use of open source, the changes required are likely to cause problems.

“Open source is a big step and the licensing issues are typically outside the education of most IP attorneys,” he said. “Also, managers can find the associated loss of control challenging.”

But the overall benefits are three-fold, Phipps said.

“There are good returns with open source, but the savings take time and the community is its chief asset,” he said.

“The software quality is better as you can 'see' bugs being fixed, and using open source avoids lock-in.”

Of the GPL (General Public Licence) – an open source licence which requires code changes to be given back to the community – Phipps said it can “severely damage your business if you can’t retain your intellectual property”.

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