Simon Phipps and Bob Worrall, two Sun stalwarts who know as much or more than anyone else about the value of open source solutions, share their views of the state of open source in Worrall's Sun Inner Circle column, "Open Source: Where We've Been and Where It's Headed." The column is addressed to the corporate CIOs among its readers.
At the outset Phipps distinguished between open source and freeware as a matter of "liberty" in his words. The prudent CIO will not choose open source on the basis of cost alone but rather on the latitude open source delivers to those who opt for it.
Phipps recalled the four characteristics of open source "freedom" that Richard Stallman identified some years ago, which are:
- The freedom to use software for any purpose.
- The freedom to study software and understand how it works.
- The freedom to modify it to make it fit your purpose.
- The freedom to pass your modified version on to whomever you please.
"Those four freedoms," Phipps continued, "lie at the heart of the value proposition for CIOs freedom to use the software for any purpose without having a relationship with any particular vendor."
He also recalled the role played at Sun by Bill Joy in the formation of the free and open source software movement. Phipps mentioned as well Sun's promotion of the Network File System (NFS), releasing its code and specifications in order to lay the groundwork for the UNIX software that later developed. Sun's commitment to open source was further demonstrated in its contributions to Linux and Java, he noted.
When UNIX became open source with the open-source release of Solaris, Sun made yet another contribution to the movement, he said.
In response to a question from Worrall on the education of prospective CIOs, Phipps said it was important for students to understand the value of the job itself as well as to remember to keep operational flexibility and identity management foremost among the considerations that govern their jobs.
The positive implications of open source for budget management were also important to bear in mind, Phipps continued, given that, "with open source software ... you have better control of your budget by having the freedom to choose between a vendor or in-house expert."
As to the future of open source, Phipps opined that open source adoptions would proceed in ever increasing numbers.
Phipps ventured the guess that, " ... over the next five years we will see every major vendor embracing open source software and using it as the heart of their portfolio. In light of this, CIOs must continually judge whether their liberties are being promoted and protected, because those liberties are the origin of the value that open source delivers. There are many vendors who want to curtail those freedoms and monetize the space by giving less liberty while still paying lip service to open source."
In other words, Phipps suggested that not all open source solutions are really, genuinely open source.
Phipps continued, adding that, "Ultimately, the choice between packaged, sealed-edge, closed software and open source software, is the choice between viewing your IT as a cost center or a competitive weapon. Companies that see IT as a competitive weapon have tended to pick UNIX and the Java platform among other technologies, because it leaves them in control of their IT architecture."
Concluding, Phipps observed that choosing open source solutions from Sun was no less safe than buying proprietary software, given that Sun's products come with contracts, SLAs and support agreements.
"The CIOs who tend to have the greatest problems are the ones for whom IT is a cost center. Those people would rather save money than have liberty, and paradoxically, by attempting to save money rather than have liberty, they neither save money nor have liberty," Phipps contended.
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