How the other (open-source) half lives

Many IT professionals, analysts and journalists are calling 2005 the year the world awakened to the advantages of open-source. I personally have reaped the benefits of open-source for many years and am relieved to hear that so many others are joining the movement.

As early as 1996, as a technical director at the U.S. Department of Defense, I had hundreds of open-source Linux servers acting as Web and file servers. Back then, Linux was very young, and there were many people who were very skeptical about running open-source on Intel-based 486 servers in volume -- some even said it was crazy. Today, with large volumes of servers running open-source operating systems in production, many might say that it was actually visionary. The reality was, I was just an IT professional working to address the demands of my users in the most efficient way possible.

Today, I manage a large IT organization where almost all the servers run open-source software. And I am not just talking about the operating system anymore. Everything from the application and Web servers to the portal and, in some cases, the database server, is open-source. It's true that many major IT organizations are starting to follow a similar model, but we have taken it one step further than most by deploying and operating more than 35,000 open-source desktops. Like the servers back in 1996, some might think deploying open-source desktops is crazy. Others might call it visionary. Again, I am just an IT professional working to solve a problem for my organization in the most efficient way possible.

As an industry insider with over 25 years of experience in IT, including many years in large organizations like the Defense Department, I believe that open systems and open-source projects have many advantages over proprietary and closed-source systems. With more and more participants stirring the open-source pot, I started thinking about how far open-source has come and specifically about how the other half lives -- the "other half" being those who have already chosen not to work within the confines of proprietary and closed software.

The other half is already developing, using and contributing to open-source on a daily basis. They have already experienced the shift from open-source as a philosophical debate to open-source as a successful business model. The next chapter in the open-source story is about to begin, as it shifts gears to further transform into a universal model, accessible by all.

In fact, with the open-sourcing of Solaris, and the estimated $180 billion installed base (hardware and software) running in production today, many enterprises have now converted to the world of open-source. Many of them may not even realize it. If they are running Solaris in production, they are already an IT organization that has deployed open systems and open-source software. Open-source may be running in your enterprise right now. In fact, it's already the backbone of many large-scale commercial (eBay, Google, Yahoo) and government IT systems today. There should be no question that open-source is ready for mission-critical business operations, and it's proving that with the enterprise systems it is already supporting today.

Although it has been around for decades, open-source finally gained the respect and attention of the business community this past year. Executives have quickly begun to realize that by not even considering open-source, they run the risk of ostracizing their customers. People want options, and they want the knowledge to determine which option is right for them.

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