Open source software has come of age, and open source working methods are spreading beyond computersby Azeem Azhar / February 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
The recipe for Coca-Cola is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. Yet a small Canadian software firm has sold 150,000 cans of a rival fizzy cola, which tastes very like Coke, and has made the recipe public. The firm behind the drink, Opencola, makes software, not drinks. It used the drink (and its open recipe) as a metaphor for the most important trend in software today.
Unlike most traditional software firms, Opencola produces open source technologies. Open source is a philosophy for software licensing designed to encourage the improvement and use of software by anyone who wants to join in. It ensures that the source code, the underlying instructions of the software, can be examined and modified freely.
The open source movement eschews proprietary controls and its software is usually produced not by firms, but by networks of volunteers who look after different pieces of an application. For this reason it has, until recently, been regarded as anti-corporate-associated with hackers’ bedrooms and academia, an eccentric corner of the market.
Today, open source has grown up and has an uncontested momentum in several key areas of the software business. Linux, an operating system that competes in Microsoft’s dominant market, has gained a beachhead in many companies. Oracle’s dominance in databases is coming under threat from MySQL, whose software was downloaded over the internet around 10m times last year. And nearly 70 per cent of the computers that serve web pages run Apache, an open source application. Almost three quarters of large US companies intend to increase their use of open source technologies, according to Forrester Research.
In its February 2003 filing to the securities and exchange commission, which regulates stock markets in the US, Microsoft admitted that open source posed a significant challenge to its business model. And it is starting to fight back. Microsoft’s original attack on Linux co…