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OSDL's Weinberg: Open source is a 'velvet' revolution

OSDL's Bill Weinberg says the open source revolution is here, and it's sure to be a much-discussed topic at next week's LinuxWorld conference.

There may not be fireworks. CIOs and IT directors may not be heaping their proprietary software on bonfires and dancing. Even so, the open source revolution is happening right now and will carry the day, said Bill Weinberg, open source architecture specialist and Linux evangelist for Open Source Development Labs (OSDL).

Weinberg will be evangelizing that revolution as a conference speaker at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo San Francisco next week. Before that gig, he discussed the state of the Linux and open source revolution in an interview with

Is there an open source revolution taking place in the business world?

Bill Weinberg: The 'revolution' is real and on-going, but it is an incremental 'velvet' revolution.

Rather than involving the dramatic overthrow of an existing order, Linux has, for the last decade, been making stepwise gains in the enterprise, in large, medium and small companies. This quiet, but persistent, march on the gates of proprietary systems has resulted in impressive market share gains, such that combined worldwide market for Linux desktops, servers and packaged software is forecast to grow from roughly $23 billion today to $35.7 billion by 2008.

Why does the revolution have staying power?

Weinberg: Enterprise IT has always enjoyed (or endured) significant ongoing investments in custom, in-house software development and integration. Before the advent of Linux and OSS [open source software] in the enterprise, such investments offered low returns -- their audiences were small, maintenance costs were high, and the very existence of such legacy placed a drag on upgrade and new deployments to meet corporate growth and IT needs.

Investments in Linux and accompanying open source applications and middleware, by contrast, offer higher ROI. Investment and risk can be shared with a community of like-minded developers and users, and the standards-based APIs and components in Linux are both long-lived and portable to future (re)deployments on Linux and other standards-based platforms.

Moreover, building out enterprise deployments on Linux and OSS is both more transparent and more secure: Companies no longer need to cultivate and maintain application-specific, often one-of-a-kind proprietary expertise, easing HR woes and reducing risk of orphan legacy s/w. And, because the software is community-based, it enjoys the purview of a cadre of experts, whose scrutiny helps to enhance its security and performance with each patch, bug fix and generation of the software involved.

What are the three top things that CIOs should know about open source software and the open source movement today?

Weinberg: One -- Linux and OSS are enterprise-ready: Leading systems and platform providers, thousands of independent software vendors and a global community of developers and integrators place Linux and OSS on a par and ahead of legacy proprietary platforms and applications.

Two -- The combination of open source and COTS [commercial-off-the-shelf] hardware offers lower cost-of-ownership and return-on-investment that proprietary s/w and hardware don't offer.

Three -- Linux and open source offer more than lower cost; they free companies from dependence on single suppliers and expand the ecosystem of solutions.

What should CIOs do?

Weinberg: Don't take our word for it. Look around your organization for a utility computing workload to use as a pilot, and see for yourself how Linux and open source can deliver lower costs, improved reliability and enhanced security.

More on LinuxWorld:

Read part 2 of the Weinberg interview

Special Report: LinuxWorld San Francisco

Some CIOs are taking a wait-and-see approach to adopting mission-critical open source applications, even though they may be running Apache and some open source admin and security tools. What's good and bad about that approach?

Weinberg: Wait-and-see is a very typical position for companies in early stages of open source adoption. The allure of open source, however, is sufficiently strong, so they want to keep the 'wait' short and the 'see' close at hand, inside the enterprise.

Companies often make their first forays into migration by deploying less critical applications or loads with Linux and OSS. They then take the lessons learned from such pilot programs and apply them in increasingly business-critical applications. Certainly this has been the route followed by financial institutions like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Charles Schwab and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to name a few. They all began by using Linux and OSS for Web sites, customer service and help desks, and proceeded, stepwise, to the point where Linux-based application stacks are processing billions of dollars in transaction every day.

CIOs tell us that they don't have enough in-house expertise to use Linux and open source software extensively. Could you offer some training tips that won't break their budgets?

Weinberg: Enterprise IT management turns to a broad array of training and ongoing education resources to help build and maintain Linux competence. Many turn to resources offered by commercial distribution suppliers like Red Hat, Novell et al. Similar resources exist within the Linux teams at key platform providers like IBM and HP. And a resource often ignored is that of already-resident Unix expertise, which can be applied in part or whole to Linux deployment and support.

There is also a burgeoning new field of systems management software and appliances, based on Linux and targeting enterprise Linux deployment, as well as other types of enterprise systems.

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