Open Solutions Alliance – not off-course for open source

As chance would have it, just after briefing with new Open Solutions Alliance President Anthony Gold, who also serves as VP and general manager of open source business at Unisys, I read a fairly critical blog about Gold and the OSA from Glyn Moody. I believe that Moody raises some valid points and offers Gold the opportunity to clarify the OSA’s dedication to truly open standards and openness in enterprise software later in the comments. However, I must disagree that the talk of including proprietary players in the work of making open source software more integrated and acceptable in the enterprise is something new or attributable to Gold. In fact, it was at OSCON 2007 when I talked with former Jaspersoft CTO and then OSA spokesman Barry Klawans about the changing direction of open source, much of which involved more effectively getting into the enterprise alongside and working with preponderant, proprietary software.

While I wanted to point out that I was hearing about this direction from the OSA long ago, I don’t fault Moody for questioning what this increased involvement and influence from proprietary players will mean for open source software. Still (and much of this may be attributable to the pure mention of Microsoft), I don’t think the OSA is straying from its mission of making sure the enterprise open source coals stay hot by looking to integrate with proprietary software.

Another example of where we may see more of a ‘proprietary’ or traditional influence on open source: (as brought to us by 451 CAOS colleague Matt Aslett), the new U.S. President Barack Obama administration’s request for perspective on government use of open source and its advantage from Sun co-founder and former CEO Scott McNealy. It seems some FOSS supporters would prefer Uncle Sam turn to a more pure open source executive than the prior head of the formerly more proprietary Sun Microsystems. However, it does make some sense to seek counsel from someone such as McNealy on adopting open source from a legacy and history of more traditional, proprietary software adoption, which exists in government. Similarly, Anthony Gold and Unisys have a unique perspective on what customers are asking for: open source, proprietary, both or other. It’s also worth noting here that in its member predictions for 2009, OSA executives highlight the impact and opportunities of a new U.S. administration and its incorporation of open source thinking.

During my discussion with the OSA, we talked about the changing motivations driving enterprise organizations to use open source software at all levels of their IT. While cost certainly remains a huge draw from customers, particularly in current conditions, we’ve seen other considerations high on the list of customers: interoperability with existing, legacy, often proprietary software and continuity of support; access to a community of experts; and the ability to combine open source tools. All of these are pertinent to open source vendors, including OSA members and the organization as a whole. While there is certainly opportunity in making open source software tools work well together, there is equal, if not more opportunity in making open source software tools work well with existing, proprietary tools.

A few years ago, this was typically an immense challenge for open source vendors since proprietary vendors were hardly receptive to such interoperability. Things are different today, however, and as Gold confirmed and as evident by greater interoperability among different operating systems, systems management software and applications, proprietary vendors are increasingly seeing the open source light and seeing the benefit of supporting open source components: it brings in customers.

Moody and others that sound the signals of caution and concern have good reason to do so and we do need to ensure that open standards are truly open, but again, the fact is that there is more opportunity than risk in making open source software work with whatever currently sits in enterprise IT shops, much of it proprietary.

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