As 64-bit processing becomes mainstream, the next major computing platform shift is due to arrive by 2008. If the open source community doesn't step up to the plate and address major impediments to widespread desktop adoption, Linux could be left behind.
Stories by Neil McAllister
I couldn't have an easier time playing fortune-teller this year. While some segments of the IT market might see the future as a wide-open plain, for the open source community, 2007 is shaping up to be a year for settling unfinished business.
Joel Spolsky is one of our most celebrated pundits on the practice of software development, and he's full of terrific insight. In a recent blog post, he decries the fallacy of "Lego programming" -- the all-too-common assumption that sophisticated new tools will make writing applications as easy as snapping together children's toys. It simply isn't so, he says -- despite the fact that people have been claiming it for decades -- because the most important work in software development happens before a single line of code is written.
It wasn't the Oracle-branded Linux that many were expecting. In a way, it was something much worse.
A couple of weeks ago, I took BEA to task for insinuating that the open source community wasn't capable of delivering good management tools for its software. A few readers leapt to the defense: BEA is right, they said. Management is critical in complex environments, and the management capabilities of open source software are often pretty poor.
You could hear Rob Levy's teeth chattering all the way from Bangalore. The CTO of BEA Systems must be scared out of his wits. How else to explain the mishmash of half-truths and misleading facts he told the IDG News Service during a tour of BEA's India-based R&D facility two weeks ago?
Those of you who weren't able to attend the InfoWorldVirtualization Executive Forum in New York this week missed out on a fascinating show. A panel discussion I moderated on virtualization and Linux demonstrated that the open source community remains very much interested and engaged with this topic. But one thing that struck me and several of my colleagues, based on audience reaction to the various sessions, was just how early we are yet in the lifecycle of virtualization technologies.
Python developers had reason to celebrate this week, with the release (http://weblog.infoworld.com/techwatch/archives/007782.html) of IronPython 1.0 (http://www.codeplex.com/Wiki/View.aspx?ProjectName=IronPython), a full implementation of the Python language for Microsoft's CLR (Common Language Runtime) (http://msdn.microsoft.com/netframework/programming/clr/). With IronPython, Python programs can run as first-class managed code on the .Net platform.
There are no two ways about it: open source is everywhere. You'll be hard-pressed to find a single IT shop today that doesn't take advantage of open source software, be it Linux, MySQL, Perl, or the Snort networking tool. And everywhere you look, top-tier vendors such as IBM, Novell, Oracle, and Sun are investing heavily in open source projects and community-based development. Even Microsoft is getting in on the game. But despite widespread and growing acceptance, making the case for open source in mission-critical enterprise IT environments isn't always easy.
An open source Mac OS would be great, but a Leopard can't change its spots
As Eric S. Raymond points out in his landmark work, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, the most powerful motive for open source developers is the need to "scratch their own itch." They begin writing software to address their unique needs. As they meet other like-minded developers, they begin to pool their efforts, forming communities. But itch-scratching only tells part of the story. The reality is that, in many cases, itch-scratching alone simply doesn't work.
Linux is finding success in much smaller devices than the servers and workstations that have traditionally been its mainstays. For embedded systems developers, the advantage of Linux over proprietary OSes lies as much in its flexibility and openness as in its low cost.
Open source tools and e-mail share a long history. Mail servers such as Exim, Postfix, and Sendmail enjoy widespread use, to say nothing of a healthy assortment of open source mail clients, from Mozilla Thunderbird to Pine. But e-mail isn't the be-all and end-all of enterprise messaging. For advanced features such as group calendaring, shared address books, and IM integration, enterprise customers typically have had just two options: IBM's Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.
It's easy to assume that open source and multimedia are mutually exclusive. A common criticism of free desktop Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, is that they lack support for multimedia playback, even for common formats. But don't blame the distributions' packagers. A maze of patents has accumulated around multimedia through the years, covering every aspect of playback and encoding. Even the MP3 format is restricted by patents that conflict with the requirements of free software licenses.
Things don't always go smoothly when you try to mix the world of open source with the world of proprietary commercial software. Sometimes those worlds collide. All too often, proprietary vendors are all too willing to ride roughshod over open source to further their own interests. And then again, sometimes it works the other way around.