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Open Source Adoption: CEO's Perspective


Henry Ruddle and Deb Woods are members of the OW2 Consortium


Inspired by the annual tradition of their partner the Open Solutions Alliance, the OW2 Consortium, a global open-source software community committed to the development of open-source distributed middleware, recently polled top CEOs and division leaders at the world's leading commercial open source companies, including BonitaSoft, BULL S.A, Collabworks, eXo Platform, Ingres, SpagoWorld, Talend, and the OW2. These leaders were asked about their market visions for the coming year and are reported here.

The respondents represent a cross-section of the open source ecosystem in the U.S. and Europe, and include leaders at independent software vendor companies at the infrastructure and applications level:

Systems integrators, consulting, and community contributors were represented by:

What happened in 2009 and where are we headed?

The respondents declared 2009 a success for the open source industry and see a consolidation of those gains coming in 2010.

According to Talend CEO Bertrand Diard, "Adoption barriers and fears are history and 2010 will be a year of exceptional growth and deployment acceleration."

Bonisoft CEO Valdes-Faura says, "2009 was one of the best years for most open source vendors in terms of revenues and I expect 2010 to be even better."

BULL S.A. Open Source Strategy Manager Jean-Pierre Laisne concurs, saying that "2009 has been a good year for systems integrators and an even greater year for Free, libre, open source (FLOSS) vendors."

According to SpagoWorld Engineering Technical Director Gabriele Ruffatti, the most common explanation for the success of open source in 2009 can be attributed to major cost-reduction and increased effectiveness of solutions.

Ingres CEO Roger Burkhardt says it more directly, stating that the economic recession put a giant bright spotlight on the predatory pricing practices of proprietary software companies.

OW2 Consortium CEO Cedric Thomas sums up the year and says, "2009 was a year of contrast where well-established open source companies reaped the benefits of an aggressive pricing strategy while fledgling vendors found it difficult to gain recognition and growth in an especially risk-averse market environment."

Most all leaders agree 2010 will be a year where companies and government agencies will use open source to cost-effectively address the backlog of IT projects that were put off in 2009 as a result of massively slashed budgets. "They will still be under pressure to provide fast time to value, and to leverage restricted budgets and open source will help them be more reactive and efficient," continues Talend's Diard.

Collabworks CEO Michael Grove strikes a note of caution. "There must be real value contributed by the community and consistent execution to win commercially," he concludes.

In contrast, eXo Platform CEO Benjamin Mestrallet expects open source to be a game-changer in the market for small hardware such as netbooks, phones and tablets. He predicts that open source operating systems for tablets will quickly find hardware providers to create products that rival the quality of Apple's new tablet.

Were there any sales strategy shifts in 2009?

The majority of respondents reported significant changes in sales strategy during 2009. Laisne and Burkhardt report that BULL and Ingres expanded their business partnerships, while Grove and Valdes-Faura at Collabworks and Bonitasoft report taking advantage of the urgent need for immediate cost savings from their customers. The sales cycle at eXo slowed down, so Mestrallet made up the difference with cross-selling. Diard says Talend was in the enviable position of having to train its sales teams to deal with higher demands of Fortune 1000 companies.

How do open source and cloud computing work together?

Most of the leaders see cloud computing and open source as complementary. "Cloud computing leverages open source software for its flexibility and cost effectiveness -- it has no alternative," says Diard.

Burkhardt expands on the concept, explaining that "Cloud computing embeds open source infrastructure once and then grows the usage at a geometric pace without any of the adoption hurdles and delays you see when you grow by adding new end users (skills, education, etc)."

Thomas notes that while cloud computing is largely built on an open source foundation, it eliminates some of the inherent price advantages of open source by commoditizing both open and proprietary applications. Laisne also expresses concern on this notion and says, "We will have to observe how FLOSS will co-exist with the proprietary applications of cloud computing."

Laisne also has concerns about licensing. "The AGPL license is the right choice for cloud distribution because it requires that people who use the software have access to the code" and Mestrallet concurs. "The cloud is a good way for open source companies to diversify their revenues," he says.

How are we doing on the public policy front?

Many of the respondents were quite encouraged by recent changes in government policy. "2009 was a milestone year for government open source policies as they moved from the aspirational policies of the previous decade ("open source is such a great idea… let's do it") to action-oriented programs that affect procurement policies directly," says Burkhardt.

Mestrallet adds, "Many [governments] now advise their IT departments to use open source products if they are of the same quality as equivalent proprietary software. Some countries have been even more aggressive in their recommendations, including France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium."

Yet, some leaders are skeptical. Ruffatti feels that governments can help open source gain a wider adoption only by supporting a real political choice. And Laisne predicts that this is the year when serving politicians will have to make the necessary changes in policies in order for FLOSS to fully demonstrate its power of wealth creation for the society as a whole. And Thomas notes that the more open source becomes a credible alternative for government procurement, the more it is targeted by lobbying efforts from conventional proprietary vendors.

Diard went for a realistic appraisal, and notes that "government involvement in Germany and France has helped open source in the past by providing a more fertile ground initially. But open source in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. did not benefit from this help, and this did not prevent open source from going mainstream there too."

Who are our friends, and who are our enemies?

When asked about open source's biggest political friends in 2010, both Grove and Mestrallet point to the United States. Grove singles out the White House CIO, Vivek Kundra, while Mestrallet expresses hope for the entire Obama Administration. Laisne points to open source users, assuming they collaborate with open source organizations such as OW2, EFF, FSF, and so on.

As for enemies, Ruffatti warned about open source companies trying to emulate their proprietary rivals. For Grove it was simpler. "I worry about Oracle."

Mestrallet focuses on one issue at Oracle. "This is going to be controversial to say, but I think the actions of Monty Widenius, one of the co-founders of MySQL, will be more harmful than helpful for open source. In trying to keep MySQL from being acquired by Oracle, he put a lot of fear out there that will lower the valuations of many open source companies, and that means less funding."

Where are we going?

Overall, the respondents see 2010 as a watershed year for open source. Grove says, "It's time for a second generation of open source." Thomas and Mestrallet both mention the continuing commoditization of open source applications, and Thomas specifically notes that open source now dominates several application markets such as business intelligence and content management.

Laisne and Ruffatti express their hopes that 2010 would be the year to work out profitable open source business models that do not impose the same costs as the proprietary business models that they are increasingly coming to resemble. "We must be sure that they do not jeopardize the consistency of OSS," warns Laisne. According to Ruffatti, "The challenge is the ability to work with a new business community model, a real business ecosystem."

Thomas sees the year as bringing about great cooperation among vendors. "2010 will be a more comfortable year for everyone: open source will definitely be recognized as a mainstream alternative, our members will be better off and will realize that cooperation is something they do for their own benefit."

For More Information

To read the questions and all of the CEO and division leader answers, go to www.ow2.org. Previous prediction surveys were conducted by the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA), which has merged with OW2. For previous surveys, visit www.opensolutionsalliance.org.


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