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Commentary

Hard Times: Open Source's New Big Test

Grim financial times are not "ahead"; they're here, now. Belt-tightening and budget-butchering across the board are the order of the day. Now's the time for commercial vendors of open source to show what they're made of: if they can weather this, they can weather anything.

Grim financial times are not "ahead"; they're here, now. Belt-tightening and budget-butchering across the board are the order of the day. Now's the time for commercial vendors of open source to show what they're made of: if they can weather this, they can weather anything.

Over the last week I've read any number of dire predictions about what will happen to the software industry in the coming years -- everything from Red Hat looking for a buyer to Sun finally going belly-up (no longer quite that ridiculous a prognostication, but who knows).

Here's what I see happening: Companies that have a solid history of experience with marketing and supporting open source -- e.g., Red Hat, and also sensible folks like Alfresco and SugarCRM and so on -- will weather this without too much difficulty. If they've learned how to run lean and mean from the beginning to stay ahead of the commercial competition, that experience will all pay off here. Those who started small, and stayed small and fleet on their feet, will live all this down. Not only that, but a few of them will emerge as model examples for how open source makes economic sense in both good times and bad.

But folks who have transitioned from a proprietary model to an open model (whole or partial) -- Novell, Sun certainly, a smattering of smaller vendors -- are going to get pinched hard. Those who still have the habits gleaned from so many years of selling and supporting proprietary software will have a tougher time of it. The really big folks -- IBM, Microsoft -- also will feel pinched, but they're spread out through so many different markets that they won't bleed as heavily.

There's a Japanese proverb that goes "Adversity is the foundation of virtue." There's another one that goes "Fall down seven times, get up eight." Let's see if they're both right.