Open source in 2005 -- simplification, assurance

Vendors stepped up their efforts this year to make users feel more comfortable and confident about deploying open-source software. Companies focused on making the technology easier to use and improved interoperability between products. Additionally, they launched services and floated ideas designed to put customers' minds at rest over any potential lingering legal issues around using open-source software.

In terms of ease of use, there was a growing trend among vendors, including SpikeSource and SourceLabs, to package open-source software into precertified, standardized and supported stacks. The stacks were also designed to lessen the time developers had to spend configuring and testing various software components to ensure that they work well together.

Services abounded in the area of software compliance from the likes of Black Duck Software and Palamida to analyze users' projects to determine whether they contained open-source code and if that software met licensing obligations. Risk mitigation consultancy Open Source Risk Management (OSRM), a Lloyd's of London underwriter Kiln and a Lloyd's broker Miller Insurance Services got together to offer the first open-source compliance insurance for businesses with an initial maximum coverage of US$10 million.

On the ideas front, SpikeSource and Intel cosponsored the Business Readiness Ratings (BRR) model proposed by Carnegie Mellon University West's Center for Open Source Investigation (COSI) to rate the maturity of today's more than 100,000 open-source projects. Meanwhile, Palamida launched an initiative to encourage vendors to list the third-party intellectual property contained in their products to reassure customers of the constituents of a piece of software.

Less players in more fields

Open-source companies themselves continued to proliferate with a new one or two popping up every week or so. Consolidation heading into 2006 is inevitable particularly as some firms may discover their business models of giving away software while hoping to make pots of money via services and support aren't quite as viable as they'd hoped.

On the plus side, users are seeing open-source alternatives appear in more application categories, be it Alfresco Software vying for position against incumbents EMC and IBM in the enterprise content management arena or Zimbra pitting itself against Microsoft and, again, IBM in the messaging and groupware space. This is a trend likely to continue as open-source edges into other areas such as providing antivirus protection.

The poster child for open-source companies this year was customer relationship management vendor SugarCRM which raised nearly US$18.8 million in Series C venture capital funding in October. The company's Chief Executive Officer John Roberts said having a healthy balance sheet provided added reassurance about the firm's longevity for Fortune 500 companies already using or considering deploying the commercial version of SugarCRM's software.

Too many licenses?

One topic of hot debate throughout the year was the growing number and variety of open-source licenses. The Open Source Initiative (OSI), the organization tasked with determining what is and isn't open source, has recognized close to 60 such licenses to date.

While everyone agreed that 60 was way too many, opinions differed over how many licenses was the right amount. Having too many licenses leaves the door open to potential interoperability problems, while having too few could prove too restrictive and hinder software innovation, the arguments ran. It's a debate set to continue with both sides continuing to pressure OSI. There'll also be plenty of public discussion throughout 2006 over what the next release of the general public license, GPL 3, due out in early 2007, will and won't contain. GPL is the most popular license for free and open-source software.

More proprietary vendors opening up, buying up

Sun was probably the most active among its peers in making open-source moves, the major one being the release of OpenSolaris, an open-source version of its Unix-based Solaris operating system in June. What Sun hadn't expected was that developers would start work on porting the operating system to other platforms, notably IBM's PowerPC. Sun later committed to releasing its entire software portfolio to the open-source community. The vendor also positioned a move to publish the design specifications for its UltraSparc T1 chip as "open sourcing hardware."

In August, Novell unveiled its OpenSuse project to open up a version of its Suse Linux operating system to both users and developers. CA, which released its Ingres relational database as an open-source project in 2004, this year sold off the technology to a private equity firm that will form a new company to develop and market the software.

Traditional software vendors also gobbled up a few open-source players. IBM helped itself to middleware startup Gluecode Software, while Oracle feasted on Finnish database developer Innobase.

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