Enterprise Unix Roundup: Open Source, Redefined

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Apr 8, 2005

Main     In Other News     Recent Updates     Tips of the Trade
Sun names the OpenSolaris Community Advisory Board, and the second annual Open Source Business Conference generates a thundering buzz. Does corporatization equal maturity? CUPS and Samba make setting up a print server a piece of cake.

Amy Newman
Michael Hall

Historically, Linux and the GPL have been two of the most public faces of the open source/free software movement. The general acceptance of Linux in the enterprise space and the release of Sun's OpenSolaris indicate change may be afoot.

Nowhere is this more evident than at this week's second annual Open Source Business Conference (OSBC). The bevy of announcements caught the Roundup staff off guard. After all, when we think of open source, we think T-shirts and Birkenstocks and the occasional stuffed penguin. Although we know the suits are a growing presence, we certainly don't think of Microsoft and Sun and Wall Street types as being in the driver's seat — even if the phrase "open source" was coined to lure suits thought to be shy of "free software" and its implied ideology.

But at this IDG-sponsored show the suits were at the wheel. Sun was the "Cornerstone Sponsor," while Microsoft, Novell, and Oracle went platinum. Sun Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz spoke about, "Building Billion Dollar Businesses with Open Source and Open Communities," and sessions had titles like, "Meet the Community: Who They Are, How to Work with Them." We can't help but think of it as, "Your Open Source Safari, Please Don't feed the Animals."

Linux may have been the poster child of the open source movement, but with OpenSolaris out, the scene is changing. OpenSolaris is not about community building; it's about Sun making money.

Linux may have been the poster child of the open source movement, but with OpenSolaris out, the scene is changing. OpenSolaris is not about community building; it's about Sun making money.

Sun's pick of charter OpenSolaris Community Advisory Board (CAB) bears this out. The CAB will provide in-the-trenches voices for Sun. But members Casper Dik, Roy Fielding, Al Hopper, Simon Phipps, and Rich Teer are free from the controversy and drama often times associated with the Linux community. Sun has proven to be strictly business in this endeavor. This is not a PR attempt to assuage "the community" or pay lip service to the revolutionary rhetoric that fuels the more vociferous Linux spokespeople.

It's all about providing a compelling business advantage to the suits, a strategy that meshes well with the idea behind OSBC. The conference represents a departure from the idea that open source is the sole province of Linux, and has us wondering if next year will see IDG's LinuxWorld Expos focus on free software, while the moneymaking side of open source is left to the OSBC.

Whether you look at this faction as corporatizing or a byproduct of the maturation of technology, open source changes the dynamics and may well spark a whole new "free vs. open" debate.

Make no mistake, open source has evolved beyond its conception. Although it was originated as a way to de-ideologize free software and make things safe for the suits, from the get-go the people pushing "open source" the hardest were really from the Linux camp and simply could not imagine a company in the operating systems business might "go open source" and still want to bury Linux. Now they've been called on that, and they have to deal with the notion that not everyone in their "community" is as like-minded and as ideology-bound as they might wish.

Enterprises generally adopt technology based on technological strengths and costs, and, occasionally, ideology. Here, Windows often comes up short. With the corporatization of Linux and open source in general, the ideology part of the argument is splitting. Only the proprietary software vendors stand to benefit, and Red Hat, without the Linux idealism and surrounding buzz, becomes just another competitor to Microsoft and Sun.

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