The title of my blog entry today is probably misleading, as I’d bet that almost everyone reading this probably has Open Source applications or operating systems running somewhere in their organization -- with leading candidates being FireFox and Linux. But given that this site is focused on collaboration, I thought it would be useful to look at how Open Source applications and approaches are impacting the enterprise market for collaborative applications.
It would be an understatement to say that there is substantial and rapidly growing interest in Open Source within the enterprise environment. In the VoIP space, the hottest commodity right now is the Asterisk open source IP-PBX. OpenOffice continues to gather substantial interest as a replacement for Microsoft Office. Open Source wiki and messaging systems such as Twiki and Zimbra offer feature sets comparable to to commercial products from Microsoft and IBM Lotus. A quick search of SourceForge.net reveals Open Source alternatives to almost any commercial application one can imagine. Perhaps the biggest open source success story is the Apache web server, which is used by a majority of the world’s web sites.
Open solutions are generally attractive for two reasons: cost and flexibility. Open Source, as its name would suggest, is free (at least to download), compile, and use, though a number of companies make a living providing support for Open Source platforms (think Red Hat). Open Source is also extremely flexible. Since you have access to the actual code, you can tinker with the software to your heart’s content. Enterprises can develop their own apps around Open Source wikis, portals, or other collaborative applications rather that having to rely on what commercial solutions can offer.
In the face of growing interest in Open Source, vendors have adopted a variety of approaches. IBM Lotus embraced open source with the release of Lotus SameTime 7.5, which incorporates support for the Open Source Eclipse framework. Ranch Networks provided its own code to Digium’s Asterisk, enhancing Asterisk’s security features. Many other leading providers of communications and collaboration tools are looking at the impact Open Source solutions will have on their own products.
Open Source has gone mainstream. Yes, there are challenges to address such as where to go for service and support, but just as Red Hat brought Linux into the mainstream by offering enterprise-grade service and support; I expect that many other companies will do the same for other open source platforms. Enterprises should pay close attention to the Open Source community as they manage their application architectures, and should look for opportunities to leverage open source applications to reduce costs or deliver additional business benefits.
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