Open Source Rising

Advocates cite the economic crisis as a potential catalyst for open source adoption. According to new research, that's exactly what's starting to happen, with a statistically significant jump in OSS sales.

Recent survey data points to an indisputable surge in open source software (OSS) revenues. That's not news to OSS advocates, who've been pointing to an uptick in sales of open source software for almost a year.

More to the point, OSS advocates -- who seem always to be trumpeting the inevitability of free and open source software -- have specifically cited the ongoing economic crisis as a catalyst for OSS adoption. According to recent market research from IDC, that's just what's starting to happen, with a statistically significant jump in OSS revenues. For the record, IDC is predicting compound growth in excess of 20 percent (22.4 percent) for OSS software through 2013. That's "considerably" higher than last year's projections, IDC officials concede -- owing in large part (but not entirely) to the economic climate.

It also bolsters what OSS advocates have been saying (with especial earnestness) since last September. "Especially [last year], we found that large corporations have been very, very receptive to open source. They don't have issues with open source anymore; as long as the product works, they can get the support they need," said Yves de Montcheuil, vice-president of marketing with OSS data integration specialist Talend, in an interview earlier this year.

Economic tumult is a factor in rising OSS adoption, IDC analysts say; it isn't, however, the sole factor.

Michael Fauscette, IDC group vice-president of Software Business Solutions, points to other issues -- starting with a fundamental change in the methodology that IDC uses to assess and calculate OSS revenues. Nevertheless, Fauscette concedes, economic upheaval is probably the single biggest contributing factor to the ongoing OSS surge.

"The open source software market has seen a strong boost from the current economic crisis," he said in a statement. "OSS is increasingly a part of the enterprise software strategy of leading businesses and is seeing mainstream adoption at a strong pace."

This tallies with what other OSS proponents say they're seeing. "We're definitely seeing more interest. I want to be clear that it [interest] isn't just a result of [companies] wanting to save money. [Interest] is also because they recognize that open source [business intelligence] competes favorably [in terms of] features [and] functions with proprietary solutions," said Lance Walter, senior vice-president of marketing with open source business intelligence player Pentaho, in an interview this spring. (Walter has a long history in the closed-source software space, too. Prior to working at Pentaho, he was employed by BI giant Business Objects SA.)

"I don't want to say that [the economic crisis] has helped us, but I will say that it's helped [customers] focus on what's important. So in addition to our lower cost, they also like the access to the source code, the fact that they're not locked in to a [closed-source] vendor or platform."

Montcheuil, Walter, and other OSS advocates have long pointed to an OSS adoption split, with companies in regions outside North America -- particularly in the E.U. -- adopting open source software more readily than their North American (particularly U.S.) counterparts.

A recent report from Forrester Research inadvertently demonstrated as much; although the survey found that there's plenty of headroom for OSS expansion -- particularly on the application side (back-end projects, such as Linux or the Apache Web server, have traditionally fueled OSS growth) -- it was based largely on feedback from business and IT executives in the EU. In that case, it found that 33 percent of respondents had already adopted OSS BI offerings (of which 31 percent said they were using OSS customer relationship management software) and that another 25 percent anticipated deploying OSS BI within the next year.

Montcheuil, for his part, says that's starting to change -- in the BI and data warehousing segment, at least. "The EU have been warming up to open source earlier than the U.S., because open source has been very strongly backed by EU governments, the governments have been very strong proponents of open source," he indicates. "In the current climate, that is beginning to change. We are now getting more interest than ever from customers in the United States."

The reason, Montcheuil suggests, is because open source has arrived -- if not as dominant technology, then certainly as a (in view of its maturity and pervasiveness) fait accompli.

"Open source is not an issue. Open source is here to stay, and open source can get [customers] real benefits for their IT budgets. [We are seeing] more and more adoption by large corporations," concluded Montcheuil, in a separate interview.

"CEOs don't care if it's open source software or closed source; [what they care about is] does the product have the right level of features … [and] performance; does [the support] provide the right level of features and bug fixes? That's where open source software is successfully competing."

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