Execs debate the 'open source effect'

The open source software paradigm has changed the software market, but open source itself is becoming so established that it will be boring in five years, panelists said at an industry event held at the Computer History Museum on Wednesday evening.

Executives from companies including SpikeSource, JBoss, and Sun Microsystems debated everything from open source business models to how commercial software giants will respond to open source. They debated during an event entitled, "The Open Source Effect," sponsored by the Churchill Club (http://www.churchillclub.org/)

"The game has changed completely. There is rulebook, no guidebook to consult," said SpikeSource CEO Kim Polese, commenting on the difference in business models between her previous commercial venture, Marimba, and open source-driven SpikeSource.

"We're having to be creative here on how we bring these products to market," she said. SpikeSource has focused on enabling use of open source software at small and medium-sized businesses and has been working with value-added resellers, Polese said.

The open source world is young enough that there is no right answer as to which business model to use, said Andy Astor, CEO of EnterpriseDB. "It's really a fascinating time," he said.

However, open source will become part of the fabric of IT deployments the way client-server is now, Astor said. "Open source is going to be a big yawn in five years," he said.

Marc Fleury, JBoss founder and now a senior vice president and general manager of the JBoss Division of Red Hat, stressed that people working on open source software should get paid for their work. "I'm still amazed that I'm fighting that battle nowadays," he said.

Sun Microsystems' Rich Green, executive vice president for software, repeated Sun's mantra that Sun is probably the No. 1 contributor to open source, although the company takes flack or allegedly not being an open source vendor. He also noted Sun started out using Berkeley Unix and Network File System, which have been freely available.

Asked to comment on how the commercial software giants -- Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and SAP -- will deal with an open source world, panelists had mixed opinions.

"If Microsoft open-sourced all these apps, they'd have tremendous opportunity in the marketplace," given the company's services and reach, said Stuart Cohen, CEO of Open Source Development Labs.

But Microsoft is not confused about open source, Fleury stressed. "They hate it," but will collaborate on it, he said. JBoss has a collaboration agreement with Microsoft.

Oracle, however, is a different story, according to Fleury. "Larry [Ellison, Oracle CEO] is infatuated with open source. He needs open source like a hole in the head," Fleury said. Oracle was rumored to be ready to buy JBoss before Red Hat stepped up and made the acquisition.

IBM has been embracing open source, Polese said. Eventually, all four companies will be open source companies that figure out a way to make open source drive their business, she said.

Polese noted the shift open source has brought, in which heavy, up-front licensing fees have given way to generating revenues through service and support, with software being freely available. While this may be seen as bad news for business, the good news is open source has grown the overall software market. "There's absolutely room for growth here," she said.

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