Meta: Make way for IT open source revolution
- By John K. Waters
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
Bottom line: expect open source software to continue to proliferate in the
enterprise, especially among J2EE users.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached