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SOA & WOA: Article

SOA in Tough Times: Dude, What About Open Source?

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine, which retains all rights.

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This reporter ran into counter-cultural techies early in his career, during his mid-80s stint as managing editor of UNIX Review.

Trade shows were glorious fun in those days, with entrepreneurs in roller skates, companies with names like mt xinu (read it backwards) and the Canta Afforda Computer Lab, and a young Bill Joy cutting a hip figure in his black leather jacket and trademark genius-speak. It is from these roots that today’s forest of open-source advocates, idealists, and companies grew.


Discussions about open source revolve around the perception that open source provides a cheaper and often better way of doing IT—whether debating the merits of “true” Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), deciding if large, proprietary companies are being cutely oxymoronic or simply hypocritical when touting their open-source solutions, or reciting the Homeric legacy of Linus and Linux.


The reality is far different. Deploying and maintaining open-source products in an enterprise can take eat up a tremendous amount of developer time, making it very difficult to implement cutbacks when necessary.


It has also become common industry practice to offer the “free” open source product as a minimally functional toy-like application, with the licensed versions containing the heft and price of its non-politically correct competitors.


The industry pattern in recent years for large companies to buy smaller open-source companies—then layer the new stuff into their existing enterprise solution sets—just reinforces this notion that “open-source” has devolved into a marketing term. Worse than that, maybe, because the open-source moniker is used by companies to absolve them from having to hire real developers to create their software.


Let “the community” do it, right? This approach often results in the toy-like, feature-lite aspect of much open-source software. It also leads to the reality that even licensed, “enterprise editions” of much open-source software require tremendous internal resources, often far exceeding that required by well-developed products.


This leads to additional difficulties presented by a lack of best practices. Software conmpanies with a robust internal development also listen directly to their customers, make improvements, upgrades, customizations, etc. along with thick dossiers full of best practices by industry, geography, and other implementation detail. A cool wiki just doesn’t deliver the same value.


It’s fun to talk about open-source software, and it’s cool to go to conferences in Portland, Paris, or Guangzhou to achieve global harmony, save children, and slay the capitalist beast through the open-source revolution. It was fun to listen to the same rap at Usenix, too, back in the days of “bang” Internet addresses and achieving world peace through BSD. The problem is, free is not free, open is what you say it is, and you should consider the source before doing anything.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.