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The top five open source stories to follow in 2006

Experts are predicting a big year for open source software in 2006.

Following a year that bore witness to the proliferation of open source business applications and increased adoption of Linux across the board, experts predict that 2006 will be another big year for open source.

There's been a lot going on, including a hard-at-work open source community ironing out GNU General Public License (GPL) loopholes, plus open source virtualization hitting the mainstream and Sun Microsystems and Novell Inc. anxiously waiting to see if their open source gambits pay off. Indeed, the experts promise plenty more open source news to follow in 2006.

TechTarget spoke to a couple of IT industry experts to get their predictions for the five biggest open source trends and stories to follow in 2006. In no particular order of importance, here's what they had to say:

1. Debate will heat up over GPL version 3

Discussions over exactly what the next version of the GPL should look like have already begun, and experts say the debate could get fairly contentious as 2006 unfolds.

At issue will be what some believe are loopholes in current versions of the license -- loopholes that some think allow vendors to get around the "inconvenience" of having to reveal source code.

Created by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, the GPL is one of the major open source software licenses. It lists the terms and conditions for copying, modifying and distributing free software.

"The GPL version 3 is being developed through an open process, whereas, in the past, the GPL was pretty much developed by individuals and sort of presented to the community," said Tony Iams, a vice president and operating systems analyst with Ideas International in New York City.

Iams said one of the major issues to be debated centers on whether software makers should be forced to reveal source code for applications that are only available on the Web.

"Right now under the terms of the GPL code, you do not have to release the source code unless you distribute the software," Iams said. "But some people are saying that if you're going to take advantage of open source programs to create a really attractive and profitable Internet service, you should also have to make those modifications available."

"You can expect the GPL debate to go on for quite some time, but it's really going to take off in 2006," Iams added.

2. Open source virtualization for the masses

There was a lot of talk about Xen open source server virtualization over the past year, but with Xen version 3 set to debut and vendors like Novell and Red Hat planning to bundle it with their Linux distributions, 2006 could be the year that Xen truly hits the mainstream.

"The parties that are going to be most interested in this are people that run data centers and want to consolidate, improve the way they run their data centers and lower their cost of ownership through better utilization and so forth," Iams said. "Those people are very closely looking at virtualization to help them achieve some of those goals."

Proprietary virtualization technology was pushed into the mainstream by VMware Inc., and later by Microsoft with its Virtual Server. But Iams said those well established players could be significantly disrupted when Xen is included with Red Hat's Linux and Novell's SuSE.

"The disruption is really going to be at the foundation of the virtualization stack with the basic ability to run multiple IS operating systems on a single server [becoming] more or less a commodity," Iams said. "That's going to push the differentiation to the upper levels of the virtualization stack, notably to virtualization management. That's where you're going to see lots of investments and activity in managing virtualized infrastructures."

3. Sun and Novell: Will their open source bets pay off?

Sun Microsystems and Novell have reshaped their respective businesses around open source over the past year, and in 2006, the world will find out if their gambits pay off.

For more information:

Microsoft: Open source not that open

Is Xen ready for the data center?

Experts say those two companies are worth watching -- and even rooting for -- in 2006, because their success will have major implications for both IT pros and the industry as a whole. Those implications, says Iams, have to do with choice.

For Novell -- a traditionally proprietary vendor that has refocused its business on open source SuSE Linux -- success means that users will have a greater choice when it comes to Linux vendors.

For Sun -- a company that has opened up all of its source code and is now focusing on providing support for its flagship Solaris operating system -- success means that users will have a viable, high-end and Unix-based alternative to Linux.

"The industry should hope that this pays off, because this would be further affirmation that the open source business model is truly viable, and not just for pioneers like Red Hat and JBoss, but also for the established proprietary players," Iams said.

4. A growing open source challenge to MS Exchange? 

When it comes to corporate e-mail systems, the combination of MS Outlook and MS Exchange are king. But more and more open source e-mail vendors -- such as Scalix Corp. -- are emerging to try and take a bigger share of the e-mail market, at least on the back end.

As 2006 unfolds, said Michael Osterman, principal of Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash., those vendors will focus on providing systems administrators with the functionality they need to swap out Exchange for open source on the back end, while keeping Outlook on the clients.

And keeping Outlook on the client, he said, is the key to building e-mail market share, because users are reluctant to take on new desktop e-mail applications. "I think that by and large [open source e-mail providers] have a growing market," said Osterman, whose firm focuses on enterprise messaging issues. "I anticipate that there is going to be increased use of open source e-mail [in 2006]."


5. Desktop Linux ready for take off -- again

Although it has been said before, experts predict that desktop Linux will gain a stronger foothold in corporate America in the coming year.

But this time, says Iams, don't expect an explosion in desktop Linux adoption rates, but rather slow and steady adoption.

Iams said this sure but gradual move forward for desktop Linux in 2006 will take place with the help of a number of software companies.

Linspire Inc. will continue innovating desktop Linux for the consumer crowd while Mandriva, a Linux and open source products, technology and services company, continues putting heavy focus on corporate desktops. In the embedded space, Iams said MontaVista Software Inc. will be hard at work pushing Linux into clients and mobile phones.

"Every year someone makes [the big desktop Linux] prediction, though it never seems to achieve quite the momentum that the optimists have predicted," Iams said. "But every year moves the bar forward a little bit, and so I expect that to continue this year."

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