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The Future of Open Source

The Future of Open Source

Linux is among the most popular applications known as "free software" or "open source." Among other things, "open source" means that the source code for these applications is available to those who are interested in seeing (or modifying) it. This is unlike commercial applications such as Windows where all the source code is a tightly guarded secret.

Open source software has now turned into big business. For example, HP recently announced that in 2003 they had over $2.5 billion in Linux-based revenue. By any measure, $2.5 billion is a lot of money.

Not bad for a little operating system that was first built by a Finnish grad student using software tools developed by Richard Stallman's GNU Project back in the mid '80s.

But what about the future? Are we close to the top? What's left to do now that Linux is seemingly on top of the world already?

What's left for open source? Plenty. Open source is literally changing the entire technology landscape.

Open source is now allowing companies - even major companies such as IBM - to build applications that have a market impact that they could never achieve on their own. It allows companies to work together to build applications that none of them could build individually.

Sure, IBM could build an operating system such as Linux (remember OS/2?). But because Linux is open source, it has much better distribution than OS/2 could ever have had. Because companies such as Oracle, HP, SGI, and hundreds of others all have the source code for Linux, they can all contribute to its advancement.

That's why IBM employs hundreds of developers who do nothing but work on an operating system that IBM doesn't even sell as its own product.

Smaller companies have a great deal to gain from contributing to Linux as well. By allowing their developers to work on Linux, smaller companies get a "voice at the table" when it comes time to influence the direction of Linux. Plus, they get to take advantage of the work put into Linux by all the big players as well.

In the future this open, collaborative process will be used for lots of things other than Linux. Amazon.com's users, for example, collaborate to build the value of the Amazon site by contributing book reviews, lists, and other information - all at no cost to Amazon. The impact of the Internet on this year's presidential elections here in the U.S. can easily be looked at as just another chapter in the collaborative, open source story.

By banding together and all contributing small pieces to large applications and projects, the users themselves are accomplishing things that the biggest companies could only dream of. These users are literally changing the world.

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of Linux.SYS-CON.com, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

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