I've got a confession. While preparing for my new series of SearchEnterpriseLinux.com columns on how to take advantage of enterprise-ready open source software, I got distracted. Like many people, I spent two weeks glued to my television watching the Olympics. What an event! From awesome achievements (Michael Phelps' 8 medals) to bitter disappointments (favorite Paula Radcliffe dropping out of the women's marathon) to the simply bizarre (a defrocked Irish priest attacking the lead men's marathon runner), I was riveted. It was an opportunity to see something rare: humans gathered from all parts of the planet striving to accomplish their best.
In the midst of all this, something gave me pause, and yes, it's related to open source. In the men's 10-meter platform diving event, an Australian -- Mathew Helm -- took silver, forcing Liang Tian, the Sydney champion in this event, into the bronze medal position. After the event ended, the picture flashed to medal counts by country. First came the US (103), second Russia (92), third China (63), and fourth Australia (49). I thought to myself: "Australia? That would be the country with gross per capita income that's two-thirds of the U.S. figure? The country with less than 10% of the U.S.'s population? How did they end up in fourth position in total medals? They are truly overachievers."
Intrigued, I did some research and found that Australia has historically done fairly well in medal counts, typically ending up between 15th and 20th. However, the story started to change in 1992, when they came in tenth. In 1996, they placed seventh. In the 2000 games, which they hosted, they placed third. Clearly, they had begun to work on improving their competitiveness in the late 80s. Their move to the elite was no accident, and their accomplishment no overnight success.
Their improvement was the result of methodical focus: identifying and selecting promising young athletes; using the best training techniques; and exposing their teams to international competition to toughen them up. I'm confident that they will continue to harvest success due to the momentum they've built up. After all, Russia continues to do well despite a decade of economic and political disarray. Once this sort of change happens, it tends to build on itself. Success leads to success.
I'm sure people look at the arrival of open source with wonder as well. How did it happen so quickly? The answer is, it didn't. Its roots stretch back into the 80s and the Free Software Foundation. The Linux project started in the early 90s. In the past decade, the open source movement focused on spreading useful development and distribution techniques to community members. Tools that make open source easier to use, such as SourceForge, have been created. Above all, large vendors and user organizations have endorsed open source and made it an acceptable option for the corporate software stack.
As the old show business joke goes, it takes 20 years to become an overnight success, and open source is no exception. It's been getting ready for a long time before it came to the party.
Use of open source is exploding; but there's still much more to be done. Open source is developed and delivered much differently than commercial software. It typically lacks product elements (e.g., training), taken for granted in its commercial counterparts. Also, open source development is evolving. Formerly developed by volunteers, open source products are now being released by commercial software vendors. There are even startups whose business plans are built around releasing their products under an open source license.
As mainstream IT organizations begin to implement open source software, they will need to apply new processes to ensure they succeed with this new animal called open source. Their processes will shift from selecting the right vendor to assembling the right bundle of product elements.
My series of columns, which starts in earnest on September 15, will be designed to help IT organizations take advantage of open source and address the issues that come with using non-commercial software. These columns will be oriented toward open source from the enterprise/CIO perspective. They'll focus on notable open source events, discussing why they are important to enterprise IT shops. For example, recently CA announced support for Zope and helped found the Plone foundation. What's interesting about this is that it shows an important IT vendor reaching into second-tier open source products to form part of their supported open source portfolio. If you're an enterprise IT shop with a need for content management, CA's announcement should put another candidate onto your short list -- an open source candidate.
I'm confident that when we look back in 10 years' time, we will see that the "overachievement" of open source will pay great dividends. Its success is well underway.
About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica Inc., a systems integrator based in San Carlos, Calif. He is the author of Succeeding with Open Source (Addison-Wesley, August 2004) and the creator of the Open Source Maturity Model (OSMM), a formalized method of locating, assessing, and implementing open source software.
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Bernard Golden says: Evaluate open source software, or else