Meta: Make way for IT open source revolution

Open source software continues to win adherents among a range of software developers, but especially among corporate coders, who tech watchers said are transforming it into a standard way to build and deliver software. Analysts at Stamford, Conn.-based research and consulting firm Meta Group predict that the trend will continue and strongly urge IT development units to be ready for it.

Meta asserts that open source is fast becoming an underlying foundation of commercial software. In a recent report, Meta consultants cite as examples several projects currently underway that employ open source software as either the foundation of commercial products -- as in the case of NetBeans, which underlies Sun's Forte for Java tool, and IBM's Eclipse/WebSphere Studio Application Developer product -- or as reference implementations of Java standards -- such as the open source Apache Tomcat, which is the reference implementation for the Servlet and JavaServer Pages containers.

In fact, the use of open source software will become a standard practice of all organizations utilizing Java by the end of 2003, Meta predicts. Many organizations are already using the Apache Web server (60% of active sites, according to one Meta survey) and a significant number are using open source Java servers (14%, Meta said). The analysts expect the majority of organizations to first make transparent use of software derived from open source foundations in binary form. As the number of standard technologies in Java continues to grow, they said, a greater number will become part of the source code base of an organization.

Consequently, IT managers must establish specific policies to control how open source is utilized in their companies, a process that can be tricky given an unpredictable release schedule. Open source software is typically built by volunteers in their spare time. Never mind the standard release process of beta and then managed releases. And continuous updates to the source files are available.

"Therefore," Meta analysts reported, "IT groups utilizing open source libraries must maintain release control to ensure that only 'official' released versions of libraries are put in use. Because the software is built by volunteers and not backed by a profit motive, release schedules are also unpredictable. This relates to the support issue, in that no mechanism is provided to ensure specific bugs or features are implemented in a timely manner. However, because the source is available, bugs can potentially be fixed in-house and then fed back to the community. Overall, open source places a greater burden for support and management on the end-user organization."

As open source libraries and tools become commonplace in most organizations, Meta advises, IT managers should match them with the appropriate management structure to control support costs.

Another potential minefield: open source licenses. Meta researchers expect new as well as existing licenses to "continue to evolve as organizations seek to provide the proper balance of protecting intellectual property and the open source model." IT managers must be familiar with each license and its different provisions for intellectual property, requirements regarding source availability, and copyright notices. "This is especially important as Web services become viable as a delivery mechanism for sharing and selling business functions," Meta writes. "Organizations must catalog licenses with their legal departments and create corporate policies for use of software under these licenses."

Bottom line: expect open source software to continue to proliferate in the enterprise, especially among J2EE users.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at



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