Marc Andreessen, co-founder of trailblazer Netscape Communications, can spot a long-term trend. So when Opsware Inc.--another company Andreessen co-founded and chairs--introduced its Opsware System 4 software on Linux in December, some of his faithful fans doubtless took the move as a sign of things to come.
Maybe Andreessen realized that others need a more detailed endorsement. So last week, at the Open Source in Government conference, he laid out 12 reasons open source will grow in importance over the next five to 10 years.
1) "The Internet is powered by open source." Linux is the standard operating system running Internet servers, while open-source apps such as the Apache Web server and Sendmail E-mail handler are critical to the Internet's infrastructure.
2) "The Internet is the carrier for open source." That makes open source easy to obtain, test, and distribute, Andreessen says. It also makes selling retail software based on open source particularly difficult. Just ask Red Hat.
3) "The Internet is also the platform through which open source is developed." As a channel, the Internet makes it easy for a programmer to find out if a particular type of open-source app exists and, if it does, sign up as a developer. If it doesn't exist, a programmer can start a development project and receive modifications from the open-source community. Don't be surprised when impressive ideas for software start coming from people in countries that barely have electricity, he says.
4) "It's simply going to be more secure than proprietary software." When a programmer develops a new cryptographic system, he or she wants to publish the specifications so that as many people as possible can try to crack it. "We haven't had a 9/11 of computer security," Andreessen says, but it's coming, and "it will wipe hard drives and propagate."
5) "Open source benefits from anti-American sentiments." Other countries don't have a thriving commercial-software industry like the United States does and can be resentful of what they see as another extension of America's cultural dominance. Open source, on the other hand, is perceived as global in origin and nature, he says.
6) "Incentives around open source include the respect of one's peers." It's like peer-reviewed science, where outstanding thinkers can gain the respect of colleagues and build reputations through impressive technical feats, Andreessen says.
7) "Open source means standing on the shoulders of giants." Programmers don't have to re-create code every time they want to build something new. As the open-source community grows, he says, so does the number of programming libraries available to developers.