PHP event: Open source accommodation stressed

Rather than fighting the open source wave, commercial IT vendors do what they must: try to ride that wave.

Panelists representing companies such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, and Oracle were queried at the Zend/PHP Conference & Expo on Tuesday about commercial involvement in the open source arena.

"It seems to us from where we sit that there's really no choice," said Tim Bray, a Web -oriented generalist at Sun and a co-inventor of XML. "A substantial portion of the market has made it clear with their wallets that they want to deploy and run open source software."

"We can't go back. It's too late," Bray said.

The business model around open source is monetizing at the point of value, when users are ready to go into production; this is easier to understand and more satisfying to users than writing big checks for software licenses, Bray said. Generation of revenues in the open source market largely has involved selling customer support services while offering the software itself for free.

An IBM official added that innovation, which had occurred at the university and vendor levels, now is happening in the open community at large.

"There's a lot of innovation that's happening outside the four walls of a software vendor or a hardware vendor," said Anant Jhingran, CTO of information management at IBM.

"The only way to actually then acknowledge that fact of life is to actually participate," Jhingran said. All the companies represented on the panel are in the business of participating in open source rather than subverting it, he said.

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor), for its part, serves as an open source project that can benefit Oracle, said Oracle's Michael Olson, vice president of embedded technologies at the company. "We believe this is a good way to get more people building Oracle apps."

Oracle, he said, has participated in development of Linux in the hope of making customers successful on the platform.

"This isn't flash-in-the-pan stuff. We're not trying to subvert it," said Olson. The company also recognizes it is not going to invent everything on its own and must participate in the community, he added. The company last week, for its part, announced a controversial plan to extend support to Red Hat Linux users.

At Microsoft, the company measures the relevance of what it does by how it maps to revenue, said Bill Hilf, Microsoft general manager of technical platform strategy. He is responsible for the open source strategy at the world's largest software company.

Microsoft is partnering with Zend Technologies to promote deployments of PHP applications on Microsoft's Windows Server platform. Open source does not necessarily mean less vendor reliance, Hilf said.

Panelists also touched on the actual subject listed for the session: software stacks. This sparked some sharp disagreements over how easy it is to switch software platforms.

The LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL Perl/PHP/Python) stack, said panelist Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, provides a heterogeneous platform that evolves on its own. Bray added that the LAMP stack is pretty swappable.

"From the business point of view, the most important freedom is the freedom to leave," which LAMP provides, Bray said.

"Right at the moment, the database is the stickiest part," presenting the greatest difficulty to change. said Bray. But it is easy to switch components such as the OS, he said. IBM's Jhingran, meanwhile, touted the use of open interfaces in enabling technology choice.

Olson disagreed sharply with his co-panelists about the ease of switching technologies.

"These guys are out of their minds," Olson said. The decision to switch an OS or upgrade is one that is not easy, he said. Switching platforms requires application rewrites even for PHP systems, according to Olson.

"If you're building a system that has to work, you are almost always locked into your lower-level technology choices," unless a user wants to undertake the pain of moving, Olson said.

Oracle, he noted, has integrated its applications and services but also collaborates with Zend for customers to build PHP applications deployed with Oracle technology, said Olson.

"Once they've deployed on Oracle using PHP, it's going to be difficult to change," he said.

Touching on the topic of programming languages, Bray stressed that no language will dominate anymore, not Java, PHP or Rails.

"You might think PHP is very big, but it's never going to rule the world," said Bray.

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