Can Open Source Apps Find Strength in Numbers? - InformationWeek
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2/16/2007
02:10 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Can Open Source Apps Find Strength in Numbers?

Observations I drew from this week's LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit are that (1) location does matter, in both physical and market space and (2) some people have a strange notion of what constititues an IT solution. The interesting news at the summit was the annoucement of a new Open Solutions Alliance. But I'll get to that after first explaining my point on strange notions.

Observations I drew from this week's LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit are that (1) location does matter, in both physical and market space and (2) some people have a strange notion of what constititues an IT solution. Regarding market space - namely how to go about creating some - the interesting news at the summit was the annoucement of a new Open Solutions Alliance. But I'll get to that after first explaining my point on strange notions.I attended the summit to give a talk on Open Source Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, also to gather material for a class I'm developing on open source for the enterprise. I'd like to gauge not only how well open source can fill a particular enterprise role such as the desktop-computer operating system, but also how the communities and processes at the heart of open source are evolving. Regarding enterprise roles, I was surprised that mine was one of only two talks on applications software and only one applications vendor chose to exhibit, CentricCRM. Frankly, Linux, server vitualization and the like are solutions only if your problem is that your CIO told you "I have 2,000 users, 200 applications, and a $2 million budget: go buy me some computers." Yes, I came away convinced that Linux releases such as Novell's SUSE distro provide a superior desktop environment and that even Microsoft is talking interoperability, but for what I consider to be IT solutions, I was looking in the wrong place. That speaks to my first point, that location does matter.

The New York summit was far smaller than the LinuxWorld event I attended last August, which was held in San Francisco just a few blocks from the offices of two open-source BI leaders, JasperSoft and Actuate, and an easy BART ride from a hefty proportion of the companies that count, not only in open source but in the computing world at large. Silicon Valley and the Bay Area nurture technological innovation, but even without physical proximity we'd see the creation of the kind of market space formalized by the new Open Solutions Alliance.

I write "formalized" and not "created" because the member companies were effectively already cooperating without a formal arrangement.

The need, according to Barry Klawans, CTO of JasperSoft, is for a group that will adress the applications perspective, that can craft "procedures and policies, ... recommendations and guidelines on interoperability:" Kim Polese, CEO of SpikeSource, articulated the group's desire to "get the focus not just on the infrastucture, but on the application or solution layer." The common objective is to generate perception of "business readiness of open-source applications" according the Hyperic CEO Javier Soltero. Why? Tom Mantos, CTO of CentricCRM, said "we're all kind of struggling to, one, make great products and, two, make a business out of this... The space is coming into its own. It needs a standards body." Interoperability is about a lot more than business alliances, agreement on APIs and data-model alignment. The group acknowledges hard challenges. These include filling gaps in the open-source applications stack - master-data management is a notable example - and tacking license alignment, which can pose a thorny problem for every open-source project, vendor and user.

The OAS is not a circle-the-wagons response to competition, whether proprietary or open source. It's about creating a market and technical presence that enlarges the space each member occupies on its own. To reinfoce that aim, the members claim to welcome competitors who wish to join the alliance. The impression they give is of bona fide desire to build something much greater than themselves individually. My take is that we're seeing further evidence that open source is a maturing industry and not just a collection of narrowly focused hackers.

Seth Grimes is principal of Alta Plana, which consults for users and vendors on business intelligence, data warehousing, and emerging analytical technologies. Write him at grimes@altaplana.com.Observations I drew from this week's LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit are that (1) location does matter, in both physical and market space and (2) some people have a strange notion of what constititues an IT solution. The interesting news at the summit was the annoucement of a new Open Solutions Alliance. But I'll get to that after first explaining my point on strange notions.

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