Why Open Source Software Isn't Exactly 'Free,' But Offers Other Advantages
Insurance Experts' Forum, February 12, 2010
A few years back, I heard one software industry leader refer to open source as a “channel of last resort” for software products that failed in the commercial marketplace.
Of course, that is anything but true. Just recently, for example, one the biggest proprietary software companies, Oracle, said it intends to expand the market for MySQL, the open source database that was part of recently acquired Sun Microsystems. Oracle has also been owner of BerkeleyDB, an open-source embedded systems database, for several years now.
Through my ongoing research work with the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) and International Oracle Users Group (IOUG), I have been tracking MySQL and open source adoption for several years. Among Oracle-intensive companies, MySQL adoption rocketed up to about a third, then plateaued at that level.
Why did open source growth slow down in this particular market? One, because the larger vendors responded with lightweight, “express” products of their own that countered the competitive threat. Two, because there was a understanding that while the open source product was initially “free” for download, installation, and licensing, the costs in terms of skills and maintenance were the same as for any proprietary product – and these costs are at least 80% of the entire equation.
I also found little activity around the other benefits of open source—revising code or participating in the community.
However, the presence of an open source product in one-third of an established market is still nothing to sneeze at. And a majority of companies are, to some extent, embracing the LAMP (Linux operating system, Apache middleware, MySQL, and Perl, Python and PHP programming languages) stack at least for some applications.
The advantage open source offers is rapid turnaround and quicker time to market. When developers need to stand up a new application in a hurry (and everything needs to be done yesterday), they can download the tools and software they need in a snap, without first begging for funding from corporate bean counters.
What is emerging is a hybrid approach to open source, where commercial companies offer support and a central source of upgrades back up products and solutions and fixes. This is appealing to many in the insurance industry, which relies on robust, bulletproof software for a range of applications.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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