The paradox of open source

As a poster child for open-source software, Linux has emerged thanks to the support of a large, dedicated virtual community of developers that have collectively enhanced the source code and made their contributions available with practically no strings attached. Compared to standard vendor-driven development models, open source may be more chaotic. But according to open-source advocates, the model is more responsive because you do not have to wait for vendors to solve bugs. With open source, anybody can make improvements at any time, as long as they share them with the community.

However, for corporate customers, who tend to prefer the assurance of having someone to call at 3 a.m. to fix a problem, the open-source model has little appeal. If you buy a Linux license from a commercial source such as Red Hat or SuSE, you can probably forget about the idea of prowling the open-source community for patches. Like any commercial software, vendors will only support what they sell. Consequently, when Auto Trade Center, an online site for auto dealers in Mesa, Ariz., encountered a 2 GB file size limitation in its licensed version of Linux, instead of trawling the open-source community to download the latest enhancement, they did workarounds to cut their Oracle databases down to size.

Please see the following related story: “IT slow to embrace enterprise Linux” by Tony Baer

“Who goes there?” by Tony Baer

About the Author

Tony Baer is principal with onStrategies, a New York-based consulting firm, and editor of Computer Finance, a monthly journal on IT economics. He can be reached via e-mail at



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