Like FOSS fog, cloud confusion may not matter

The general public knows little about the true technology fundamentals of cloud computing, suggests a recent survey commissioned by IT vendor Citrix. Almost a third of the roughly 1,000 U.S. adults polled thought cloud computing was related to weather.

However, the ascendance of Linux and open source software 10 years ago demonstrated that everyday people do not have to understand, appreciate or knowingly participate in a technology in order to leverage it in their lives.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

Mixed signals in IT’s great war over IP

Recent news that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble agreed to partner on the Nook e-reader line rather than keep fighting over intellectual property suggests the prospect of more settlement and fewer IP suits in the industry. However, the deal further obscures the blurry IP and patent landscape currently impacting both enterprise IT and consumer technology.

It is good to see settlement — something I’ve been calling for, while also warning against patent and IP aggression. However, this settlment comes from the one conflict in this ongoing war that was actually shedding some light on the matter, rather than further complicating it.

See the full article at TechNewsWorld.

WebOS and the open alternative live another day

There has been no shortage of reaction to HP’s move to make the Linux-based WebOS open source software. Below, I offer some of my thoughts on the meaning for the different players affected.

*What’s it mean for WebOS?
Moving WebOS to open source was best option for HP. It retains some value in the software depending on its involvement. It is also the best fate for the code, rather then being sold or simmered to its IP and patent value or even used as another weapon in the ongoing mobile software patent wars. Still, the move comes amid huge developer and consumer uncertainty for WebOS. Nevertheless, at least WebOS was already in the market with a compelling products, the Palm the Pre, in the modern smartphone market. WebOS will hopefully have a faster path to open source than Symbian since the former is based on Linux. I still think the greatest opportunity for WebOS may be in serving as an open alternative in the market, particularly after Android has proven to handset makers, wireless carriers, OEMs and others that a Linux-based, open source mobile OS can succeed in the market and provide profit for multiple parties. Furthering this opportunity, WebOS may be even more attractive to these key vendors, channel players and other stakeholders who are tired of the IP and patent stress and expense around Android. Of course, Android was not under patent or IP attack until it was successful in the market and the same may be the case for WebOS, though we think its IP roots and history in touch and smartphone technology are less complex in terms of origin and ownership.

*What’s it mean for competitors?
For Apple, an open source WebOS means more market pressure and open pressure, more competition for developers and a real danger WebOS hooks into the Android ecosystem. WebOS may also be harder to attack from a patent and IP standpoint since it is older and more singular in ownership (Palm and now HP). Other factors include HP’s own formidable patent portfolio and the perception of Apple as a patent aggressor, which would be reinforced if it attacked WebOS the way it has gone after Android.

For Android, it may finally get a dose of its own open medicine, feeling the pressure of another Linux-based, open source mobile OS that is familiar to many developers, compatible with newer smartphone technologies and appealing to handset makers and other key OEMs. However, WebOS is also a validation of Android, which paved the path for mobile Linux and open source to finally break through beyond geeks to reach a mass consumer audience.

As for other proprietary players such as Microsoft and RIM, another open source rival is bad news. It presents another open source option and potentially serious competition on developers, applications, devices, carriers and consumers. An open source WebOS may also make Android, in effect, more open with faster, easier access to code for both Android and WebOS compete. This could make it even harder for these older, proprietary players to get developer or consumer mind share that is already slipping.

*What’s it mean for open source? Really, there is no downside for open source except that it will be viewed as a form of software cemetery if WebOS is not developed or delivered to market. HP’s WebOS move does give open source greater prominence in mobile software. Again, it is a validation of Android, which is Linux-based and open source, and shows that we haven’t seen the last of mobile Linux and open source software in Android.

Ubuntu on the move more than in decline

Ubuntu has been taking some criticism and heat for its falling Distrowatch rankings. I don’t doubt that after years of popularity, we’re finally seeing a bit of a return to the desktop Linux world of old when a new distribution shot up every week or month, then faded, then re-appeared … and so on. However, when I consider where Canonical and Ubuntu are heading, I question the significance of desktop OS standing and Distrowach rankings.

First off, I must say that Ubuntu’s slip off the ‘king of the hill’ game on Distrowatch came at the expense of Linux Mint, another polished, user-friendly Linux. It wouldn’t surprise me if some Ubuntu users may be migrating to Mint or other distributions largely out of frustration or dislike of the new Unity interface over the previous primary interface, Gnome. However, I think the move will be worth it in the long run to Ubuntu, as I’ll explain further.

If considering desktop OS, the most important aspect to me as an enterprise software analyst is enterprise desktop, and Ubuntu does well there. I’m sure there are plenty of shops running other flavors of Linux, including Mint, Gentoo, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Debian and many, many others, but for corporate desktop, the list quickly thins. Nevertheless, this is where Canonical has had some big victories, including the French police. In terms of consumer and user desktop PCs, the category itself is disappearing into converged and touch-capable devices, further distancing us from the ‘distro wars’ of the past.

Still, the server is where the real action and revenue from Linux exist. Here, Ubuntu still faces a role-reversal from most Linux distributions, using desktop and developer popularity to fuel its use as a server OS, which is also helped by free availability and cloud computing. Ubuntu continues to benefit from its early move to cloud computing and its popularity among developers, but also still faces a huge challenge in monetizing use. Significantly, the latest version, Ubuntu 11.10, incorporates support for OpenStack (or Eucalyptus) and VMware Cloud Foundry PaaS. This could be significant given what we’ve seen from this type of integration and bundling in the past. In addition, Ubuntu benefits from being among the select few Linux distribution that exist in both free, community and paid, commercial form. As reported in our special report, ‘The Changing Linux Landscape,’ the existence of an unpaid community cousin can help drive commercial growth for paid, subscription Linux, as we’ve seen happen with free Ubuntu and paid Ubuntu, as well as Fedora and RHEL and OpenSUSE and SLES.

Finally, the explosion of smartphones, tablets and converged devices — many of them running embedded Linux — makes clear there is more opportunity in these newer devices than in the desktop PCs of old. Ubuntu got a good start in netbooks and continues to be among the most advanced netbook operating systems. This should help its move to smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices, TVs and more and this is where the payoff of Unity occurs. Canonical with Ubuntu may have a real advantage as a user-friendly, mobile Linux OS that can be used by OEMs and carriers without the intellectual property stress that has marked Android, which has nonetheless laid the groundwork for mobile Linux in the industry. In the end, the pain of leaving Gnome has been significant, but the promise of where Ubuntu is headed seems worth that pain.

The downside of Microsoft’s Android dollars

There’s been a lot of attention on the amount of money Microsoft is making from Android, including Microsoft’s own proclamations. Maybe it’s just that I’m more of a fan of Linux and open source software, or maybe I’m overly focused on the lawsuits and threats against Android, but I see serious downsides to all of those dollars for Microsoft from Android.

I believe Microsoft’s strategy to pursue patent licensing deals rather than sue, as we’ve seen from Apple, may prove to be a more effective strategy. Rather than limit or destroy Android, Microsoft is actually supporting its growth, meaning more Android devices and users in the market. Since it’s making so much money from Android, Microsoft may be less interested in limiting or attacking it, so that’s a benefit to Android. However, I do see some significant drawbacks to Microsoft’s Android strategy, all of which serve to limit Microsoft’s opportunity in the future.

First, Microsoft’s Android licensing is a validation of Android. Many if not most of the companies using Android that are also Microsoft licensees all seem to be doing well enough and making enough money to go ahead and pay Microsoft’s licensing fees. This highlights Android’s growth and spread, which is tied to significant market gains for companies such as HTC, Samsung and Verizon. One might argue that Microsoft’s Android licensing revenue will similarly rise with the Linux-based mobile operating system’s growth, but I don’t see that happening, and the second drawback I discuss next is the reason.

Second, we’ve already seen Samsung working to sidestep technology and patents in question that have caused courtroom fights or market bans around the world. I expect all of Microsoft’s Android licensees are working to similarly work around technology in question, so there is a shelf life on Microsoft’s IP licensing business. The details of these patent deals are not public to us, but the companies that agree to them have a much better handle on which technology is problematic since they’re the ones signing. I expect we will see these deals peak at some point and over time, they will become less relevant to Android backers and less lucrative to Microsoft. In addition, for all of the criticisms regarding its openness, Android has a global, open source development community behind it. That means it will be able to compete, innovate and work around things quickly. Those workarounds will likely make their way into the greater Android community so that supposed patent infringements will decline and eventually disappear.

The third drawback is a matter of pride. At the same time Samsung officials signaled an effort to sidestep IP-sensitive technologies and issues, a Samsung executive expressed concern that these patent suits and fights may come at the expense of pride in brand and company. I couldn’t agree more. It really does say something if Microsoft is making more money from IP licensing of non-Microsoft technology than from its own work in smartphones — perhaps the hottest technology market on the planet right now. Consumers may not be aware of or care about lawsuits, license deals or pride, but developers do.

Given some new indications there may be a change at Apple and a bridge to Samsung whereby settlement, progress and choice take priority over market bans and destruction of an ecosystem, these drawbacks for Microsoft may be even more significant going forward.

Contemplating innovation, openness, clouds at OSCON

The annual OSCON conference is and should be about open source, but some different conversations, companies and of course new code all make the show a good milepost to check what is driving open source, what the current debates are, who is winning criticism and praise and what is making open source matter most in enterprise IT.

This year’s OSCON was marked by some new ventures, companies and faces in and around open source. It also became clear after several conversations with vendors, developers and users that the biggest driver of open source software in the enterprise today seems to be innovation. What else would be driving open source? Well, when we asked customers nearly two years ago, the clear, primary driver was cost. Customers and users also rated flexibility as both a top driver of open source adoption and a benefit of open source after adoption. However, even then we saw a significant jump for factors such as performance and reliability when comparing driver of adoption and benefit from adoption. This indicated to us that the reasons for and advantages from open source software were shifting from simply cost-effectiveness and less expensive alternatives to innovative reasons that dealt more with capabilities, functionality. Time and cost will always be big factors, but it has been interesting to watch this transition, and OSCON appears to be a milepost that we’ve reached a point where innovation trumps other factors most of the time. We will be doing more research into open source software and what’s driving it, particularly in cloud computing, later this year.

Another major part of OSCON this year was the discussion and debate about openness in cloud computing. Microsoft introduced the idea of ‘open surface,’ indicating that openness in today’s cloud computing environment is less about source code and open source and more about SLAs, terms of use and contracts. This is an important and valid point and illustrates a question I’ve posed before regarding what is open enough? Still, we see the cloud building and stack components, which are almost completely open source, and it becomes clear that open source is a fundamental part of openness in today’s IT environments.

This is the role of open source software that I discussed when considering it along with open standards, open clouds and open data as the keys to openness in today’s enterprise IT.

We also saw another perspective on open clouds emerge at OSCON, and this time from a more organic source than the Open Cloud Manifesto that emerged from IBM and was received with some skepticism given it was a vendor effort. Instead the Open Cloud Initiative has been formed to lay out not technologies, not standards, but principles intended to keep customers, their software and their data open and free of lock-in, which has crept back up to the top of customers minds, particularly in cloud computing. While it benefits from having some true thought leaders in open source and cloud computing who work for powerful vendors, the OCI is focused on being a non-vendor organization. This is partly why it was set up as a non-profit, according to OCI board director John Mark Walker, who is joined by OCI President and Founder Sam Johnston and fellow directors Rick Clark, Marc Fleischmann, Shanley Kane, Sam Ramji and Simon Wardley, among others.

The OCI intends, with community input, to provide a legal framework for cloud computing vendors and users to come together on requirements that can be applied to products and services in the market. The organization has formed key principles around interoperability, user portability and standards that include copyrights, patents, trademarks and implementations. The idea is to ensure that cloud computing services are open enough for users to move among them without having certain parts of their infrastructure, applications or data locked or silod with a single provider or consortium. It’s an admirable effort and will hopefully add to the pressure to keep cloud computing open.

The open card in the mobile game

I wrote last year about the way Google’s Android mobile operating system was serving as a more open alternative to Apple’s iOS, but not so open that it didn’t leave opportunity for an even more open alternative.

Given that we continue to see software patent-based attacks on Android, as well as swirling FUD around coverage of the attacks and never ending suits and settlements and courtroom developments, it is clear it will be a long time before any of this legal business is ever close to settled, unless ended by settlements first, which is likely.

However, I’m more interested in the technology in the meantime. I also think it’s interesting to see, if not a ‘more open’ alternative emerging, at least another, ‘somewhat open’ option in the tablet market, this being HP’s WebOS. It’s interesting that WebOS evolved from Palm, which HP acquired in March 2010 for $1.4 billion. Though Apple’s iPad is still the clear leader in tablets, it is interesting to see continuing signs that what happened in smartphones (where iPhone led and Android quickly caught up and then passed iOS) may be happening in tablets. There is also still the possibility that tablets may play out like netbooks, with wild popularity followed by a fade in favor of more traditional PCs for traditional PC needs. It is interesting to note that Google’s Eric Schmidt recently commented on the continued utility of PCs, which will remain key to professionals, consumers, and also developers, largely because of the tactical keyboard. What is most likely is continued convergence, and it will be interesting to see what ties emerge between WebOS and PCs as computer hardware giant HP rolls out the OS in tablets and smartphones.

We also see other signs that new, open entrants may be mixing things up in the mobile and converged device market, such as word of a possible Android and iOS competitor from Mozilla. There is yet another project that is already a factor in netbooks, other mobile devices and the burgeoning IT market of automobile information and entertainment systems, MeeGo, which is also open source. Even Research in Motion’s Playbook is based on the QNX operating system, for which source code was made available by its previous owner to make it more like the open source Linux OS, which was attracting developers and interesting customers.

We believed there was a fairly prominent place for open source software, open source operating systems and general openness in mobile software when we wrote our report, Mobility Matters three years ago, but we would have never guessed that the openness of this software would be so significant in two respects: defense from patent and other intellectual property attacks; the market power of open source, which draws in not only developers, but manufacturers and other third-parties. We’ve seen the speed and strength at which a project and community such as Android can grow. Will we now begin to see other alternatives that are even more open emerge as top choices among developers, hardware companies, wireless players and consumers? Never before have those alternatives really existed in the mobile software world, so it’s good at least to see the possibility is there.

The rise, fall and reality of commercial open source

We’ve been writing ourselves about the move toward more permissive licensing in commercial open source, as well as a lessening of the use of ‘open source’ as an identifier or differentiator. We’ve also seen others comment on a perceived loss of significance and importance of free and open source software and open standards. Combine this all with some typical observation on the lack of contribution back to open source software projects, and it might appear that open source software is a once-mighty empire in the midst of decline. However, from my perspective it seems despite all of this, open source software has never before been as pervasive, disruptive and innovative as it is right now. While we have yet to reach open nirvana, open source software is playing a pivotal role in the two most significant software markets currently: cloud computing and mobile computing.

Much of the gloom and doom in open source software the last couple of years has centered on the evil that is ‘open core,’ yet I have been among those contending that open core and the mixing of open source and proprietary models is often something that customers want. In addition, rather than just a matter of converting much or all that open source community goodness to cold hard cash, I believe all of these trends and perspectives support the idea that open source software is actually gaining in significance. Whether it is viewed as an effective marketing mechanism may be another thing, but the fact that open source is prevalent in the two hottest categories of IT today: cloud computing and mobile devices.

We’ve written extensively about open source software’s prevelance in cloud computing. We’ve also covered how the many, critical open source pieces of cloud computing stacks, whether SaaS, IaaS or PaaS, are also having an impact on openness and discussions of it, something we also see when considering recent partnerships and a changing landscape for Linux and open source software.

We’ve also covered the significance and prevalence of open source software in mobile computing. At the same time, we recognized that while open source software was a key ingredient to most if not all mobile software platforms and application ecosystems, there was a lack of open source software reaching end products and users.

In both cases, there are reasons and incentives for ‘going closed,’ so to speak, but it is the true open source efforts that elicit true community benefits: collaboration, transparency, speed, flexibility, security and more. So while open source as a term or identifier may not be what matters most to vendors or customers, there is no question open source is key to the business and future of many, if not most vendors in cloud and mobile computing. Ask Puppet Labs or Chef sponsor Opscode whether open source matters to their customers and their business. Ask Google whether openness is something they consider as they move forward on Android and Chrome. Ask Rackspace whether open source is critical in its open source cloud computing stack, OpenStack. Ask HP whether it is meaningful that WebOS is open source. I have. It is. So the next time we hear about the surrender, retreat, fade or decline of open source software or its importance in today’s computing landscape, just remember that today’s key markets tell a different story.

Structure builds empowerment, value out of devops, auto-ops

We highlighted recently that along with the prominence of open source software, cloud computing is characterized by its early days. Yet users, customers and most importantly, leadership seem to be aware of the need for change, the need to support it and the fact that every day vendors and users put off starting that change is another day they fall behind. Below are some of the key take aways from discussions with leaders, users and other community members I met at Structure last week.

Again, I heard a lot of discussion of how much vendors and technologies are gaining from their users and communities, which are having a greater say, impact and involvement in the deployment of cloud computing technology. I do believe customers have learned from previously deploying open source software and virtualization in their environments and organizations. The louder customer voice is also a case of user empowerment and enablement that has occurred, giving users more flexibility in hardware, features, operating system, hypervisor, programming language and, increasingly, application programming interfaces (APIs). With user and customers such as E-Trade, Lexis-Nexis, Nasdaq and Netflix — among those represented at structure — we can see how bringing their technology experience and expertise to the table can help move things along for both user and vendor.

However, another theme of Structure was the continued movement of devops — the confluence of application development and deployment of applications via IT operations — from early adopter and cutting edge users to the more mainstream enterprise IT user and customer community. Structure provided more validation that the trend is indeed shifting the IT and technology approaches and purchases of some of the same verticals that helped usher in broad use of open source and virtualization: financial services, insurance and telecommunications, in particular.

At the same time we have continued to see the rise of devops, we are hearing more and more about the abstraction of the IT operations for developers, a term we describe as ‘auto-ops.’ Given my complaints about the term ‘no-ops,’ I’ve been promoting auto-ops as a reference to the abstracting of IT operations, rather than implications of cutting or avoiding IT staffs, a term that emerged on the CAOS Theory blog. The term and idea of auto-ops seemed to resonate with the vendors and users with whom I was fortunate to speak at Structure.

While open source took some time to become more official, devops and auto-ops are emerging with a greater recognition, awareness and verve from leadership. Basically, CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, dev teams, ops managers and others leading both the IT and the business efforts see the writing on the wall, and it says something to the effect of: ‘iterate or obliterate.’ Figure out how to get code, features, applications out to users and be ready to address hiccups not only in the code, but in the conduct of that code in the many virtual, cloud, Web, mobile and other environments where it will live or die. Figure out how to be a service provider on top of or below being a software provider (devops), or get help doing so (auto-ops).

The fact that leadership is so in tune with the changes afoot and that they are more experienced leveraging community — open source or not — means that this time around, the trends are going to equate more quickly to proven, policy-driven and paid implementation of devops and auto-ops technologies and practices.

Is Android FUD a forebearer of Linux-like success?

Time is flying by so fast, it sure doesn’t seem like it was last year I was blogging about how Android is for real. Well, let me reiterate … Android is for real. The reason I say that and stress that is despite its success, we see a variety of legal threats, accusations and actual lawsuits flying at Android as fast as it is growing in the market.

Still, we seem to be able to fairly easily find agreement among vendors, developers and users that Android development is not slowing down, that legal maneuvering will not pave a path to success or that any ruling or action will take Android-based phones out of consumers’ hands. This is not to say Android doesn’t face significant challenges: real fragmentation and version overload; a software development pace that may be too fast for handset makers or consumers; innovation from rivals such as Apple, HP, Research In Motion, Microsoft and others, including ones we may not yet be considering a threat, but which may find an improvement or refinement. This could be as simple as serving as the more open alternative.

I’ve seen some criticisms of Android and Google indicating it is clear or should be clear what is open source and what is not. I would argue, however, that is has become quite unclear what is open source and what is not in all circumstances and particularly in smartphones, as we covered in our special report Mobility Matters two-and-a-half long years ago. There’s no denying the constant pressure for Android and Google and others in the ecosystem to be true to the spirit and letter of open source and its licenses, however painful, serves to strengthen its open source aspects. However, the statements and signals crying foul against Android are quite similar to the complaints, threats and, yes, FUD we saw swirling around Linux a decade ago. And let’s not forget the lesson of open enough, which becomes even more significant given cloud computing and the capabilities it is extending to smartphones and other mobile devices.

Bottom line, developers, handset manufacturers and consumers are heavily more focused on new releases every six months than who is suing whom in the IP infringement claim game and software patent ‘system.’ To predict where Android is headed and what is likely to happen as a result of the FUD, we can look at Linux, which emerged stronger, more competitive and more enterprise-ready after the infamous SCO threats and lawsuits.

I have no fear that Android development and innovation will slow down as a result of legal claims, suits or threats. I have no uncertainty that new features, functionality, applications and development will be the drivers in the market and I have no doubt that the companies, cash and consumers on the line will keep things incredibly interesting over the next several years. No FUD here. Nothing to see, move on.

New Linux landscape emerging

Recent news that Linux vendor Red Hat is changing the way it releases code, described as ‘obfuscating’ or worse by some FOSS advocates, brings up an important discussion of complying not only wiith the letter of open source software licenses, norms and practices, but complying with the spirit of open source.

However, I’m going to leave that debate to others while I focus on another matter that is highlighted by Red Hat’s recent move: the changing enterprise Linux landscape. Red Hat’s move shows an intensifying competition in the Linux market, with Red Hat seeking to thwart or slow the copying and reselling of its code. It also highlights the change in positioning of Linux distributions, which are expanding beyond a couple of main distributions to a number of other possibilities, driven primarily by virtualization and cloud computing. Of course, there is also an impact from unpaid, community Linux distros, including CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu, as covered in our special report The Rise of Community Linux.

Indications are that the Linux market changes are continuing, with a greater impact from the unpaid community distributions, which are often ideal for stripping out or adding components for various virtualized and cloud computing deployments. Based on customer and vendor conversations, we also see Ubuntu as a much more important Linux distribution in the clouds, compared to the traditional enterprise server market. In fact, most polls and surveys indicate Ubuntu as the top Linux OS used for clouds, including our own. Finally, there is yet another Linux distribution that is not necessarily an ‘official’ Linux, but is certainly well-used in cloud computing: Amazon Linux. While the company does not promote its own Linux version, wide use of Amazon’s Linux AMI are, in effect, Amazon Linux. The same might be said for OpenStack, which is being described by Rackspace and other backers as a ‘cloud operating system.’

Given we have described 2011 as the year of Linux in the clouds, we will be watching closely to see how the market, the use of Linux and the various distributions and their backers continue to evolve. This will also be the focus of a new special report from The 451 Group that is coming soon.

Black Duck-Ohloh marks far flight of open source

We’re a long way from SourceForge, which used to be the closest thing to a single repository for open source software. From a few years ago when we first chronicled the changing locale of open source software to the more recent state of open source code, project and community destination, we’ve seen a dramatic change and evolution in how and where the actual code of open source software resides. Far from having a single home of any kind, open source is now spread out to thousands of other sites and communities, including Apache Software Foundation, Eclipse.org, GitHub and Google Code.

That evolution continued with Black Duck’s recent acquisition of code and developer community Ohloh, which we covered in a 451 Group TechDealMaker report. Black Duck believes, as do we, that Ohloh was an under-appreciated asset in the areas of collaboration and connection to enterprises, which includes the business that Ohloh built by providing useful information on open source projects to large enterprise users. Unfortunately, that business push largely ended when Ohloh was acquired by SourceForge.

We expressed some concerns with the Geeknet (then SourceForge, Inc.) acquisition of Ohloh in May 2009, given Geeknet’s tendencies toward e-commerce and advertising and frankly away from developers. Our reservations were based mainly on the continued overlooking of the opportunity to maintain and provide valuable information on open source developers, projects and trends, and also to connect enterprises eager to use and pay for open source software with the right developers, communities and vendors. Now that Ohloh is under Black Duck — which is more about code, developers and the hot and upcoming languages, projects, uses and advantages of open source software — it may have a better chance of living up to its potential of being the next-generation code destination — the new SourceForge for a new era of open source software.

Black Duck’s efforts to support and integrate the Ohloh community with its existing KnowledgeBase, Koders.com search and other technology may create an open source software directory geared specifically for enterprises, which make up the bulk of Black Duck’s own customers and community. Black Duck does make a better match for Ohloh since the company is closely connected to the latest and greatest uses of open source, which now include cloud computing and mobile devices. Still, considering that Ohloh draws on more than 250,000 code repositories, project hosting and other sites, there will likely be continued evolution, competition and improvement in these online destinations for developers. The bigger challenge and opportunity lies in bringing the code, developers and collaboration together for the enterprise users that sometimes still struggle to find good information on open source.

Finally a decision on Solaris

We must say this about Oracle and its moves (or lack thereof) with OpenSolaris, it finally ended all of the second-guessing, wondering and handwringing of Solaris-or-Linux, OpenSolaris-or-not, Unix-or-Linux that characterized the OS story at Sun Microsystems when it rolled out the open source version of Solaris in 2005.

Now that Oracle has largely ended support for OpenSolaris, many Solaris users and customers that continued to be on the fence about the OS will finally be making their decision to either stay with Solaris or move over to Linux. Unix migration to Linux has always been a mainstay for enterprise Linux adoption, and while the low-hanging fruit is becoming more sparse, there is still plenty of Unix migration to Linux to come. We have seen cases in Linux communities where the most significant Unix in their world is OpenSolaris, and while we hear similar things regarding Solaris and its continued market presence, there is no question OpenSolaris — a fully open source OS with available binaries — was a much better fit for the growing ranks of Linux-savvy developers and administrators.

Given we have our questions about Oracle’s understanding and appreciation of open source software, particularly less tangible community aspects, we wonder whether the company may be underestimating the value OpenSolaris had been bringing Solaris, which it fully intends to support. In fact, Solaris is in many ways Oracle’s most direct and familiar route to the accompanying hardware business at Sun. Yet Oracle does not seem to think that a healthy, updated OpenSolaris, which was made available in binary form by Sun as we covered in 2008, provides anything for the licensed Solaris OS. However, consider why Sun went ahead with an open source version of Solaris: the open source version’s reason for being was the fact that Solaris was losing users, and perhaps more important losing develpoers, to that open source OS, Linux. Take away the open source version, and all of those things that are attractive about OpenSolaris — flexibility, freedom from licensing and vendor lock-in — become exclusive to Linux. We expect Solaris use and market share to hold steady, but we also think the end of Oracle’s support for OpenSolaris may represent a turning point for many Solaris customers that have been contemplating a move to Linux. Since it is open source, there is also another non-Solaris option emerging in a fork of OpenSolaris from Illumos Foundation called OpenIndiana.

Again, there will continue to be those that choose or are more tied to Solaris, whether by applications, by hardware or by choice, but without OpenSolaris standing between these customers and the ongoing preference for Linux, particularly in cloud computing as we cover in our special report, Seeding the Clouds, Oracle may be walking away from some customers as it walks away from OpenSolaris.

Would open source have prevented Apple bruising?

Apple has finally responded to the issues with the antenna of its latest iPhone 4, but I can’t help but wonder whether this all could have been prevented if Apple the company and iPhone the product were nearly as open as much of the open source software that runs the popular device?

We often have to state that open source is no silver bullet, panacea or other positive cliche in IT. It takes hard work, investment, support, luck and timing to work, but for all of its challenges, one of open source software’s most significant and overlooked advantages is the typically immediate and exponential enlargement of development and testing.

Successful open source software communities are made up of developers, yes, but increasingly we are seeing the value of users and customers, whether it is code contributions, cash or simply enlarging and enhancing the ecosystem around the software.

An open source software community can also serve as sales funnel — alerting and informing vendors to preferred methods of consumption and direction for the software. Still, we’ve discussed the difficulty of selling to or focusing sales and marketing too narrowly on that same community.

Bottom line and back to Apple — open source software development and open source software itself serve as catalysts for not only open, collaborative and transparent development with more eyes on the code, but also for broader use of the product, so that those most excited about the latest version can give it a spin and report back any bugs they encounter, easily and early.

It does appear the iPhone4 may have gone out the door too fast and without the usual carrier testing, and this may be evidence of the pressures Apple is feeling regarding speed of development given Android’s traction in applications and market share.

This is additionally a case where Google’s beta strategy and the multi-hardware approach of Android make a lot of sense, but I believe this is also an example of how Android and a more open alternative again display advantages.

Do customers want open core?

There is renewed and meaningful discussion going about open core with several good insights and arguments: Simon Phipps, Mark Radcliffe, Stephen O’Grady and our own Matt Aslett to name a few.

Still, when we consider the various people and sides arguing for and against pure open source, open core or something in between, I wonder if there is one key group being left out of all this discussion going on amongst vendors, open source companies, open core companies, open source projects, open source developers, open source investors, open source analysts and others: customers.

It’s been my experience that customers typically want the features and insurance (SLAs, indemnity, certification) of open core, provided it remains flexible and the code and option to self-support always exist with a usable, updated, free, open source community version. As we saw when we surveyed open source users and customers, while cost continues to be a big driver, flexibility is among the most cited reasons for and advantages from open source software. While ‘flexibility’ can be admittedly nebulous, what we hear from customers is that they want the freedom and free availability of open source software, but they also want and need the option of paid, commercial support, features and functionality.

Whether a vendor is pure open source or mostly proprietary open core, the advantages of open source software — reduced vendor lock-in, future-proofing and the freedom to continue working with the code, to work with other community members on the code and its direction, the option of self-supporting or otherwise continuing with the code, but not the vendor — all of these things come only with truly open source software and open source communities. I believe the community around the software and its well-being is the true differentiator when it comes to success with commercial open source, whether pure open source or proprietary-heavy open core. If the free, community version is truly crippleware or even if it is not updated and vibrant, then the vendor is less likely to reap or offer those advantages of open source. If the community version is comparable except for higher-level features, functionality and scale, and if that community is supported by the vendor and the community version is updated in parallel with the paid versions (which we typically see in successful open core models), then the vendor is more likely to reap and offer those advantages. The bottom line: flexibility and freedom for the user/customer are not tied to the vendor’s license or business model, be it pure open source, open core or other, but instead are connected to the state and health of the open source software community that is the basis for that vendor’s offering.

I’ve heard similar arguments and demands for flexibility — the option for free community versions that provide decent functionality and features along with the option for more advanced features and subscriptions in paid versions — from vendors that partner with open source software-based companies. Often, there is a reticence and inability, sometimes by policy or procedural rules, to effectively work with an open source software project or community, but once a vendor that supports that software and community commercially emerges, the opportunities for partnership become much more practical and doable. That does not mean the commercial backer has to take an open core route, but I believe the demand for things typically associated with traditional, proprietary software, such as SLAs, indemnity and certifications, are part of what drives demand for open core among open source customers.

This further reinforces the idea that the market and the customers will determine the success or failure of an open source-centered or focused vendor, regardless of how pure open source or proprietary open core they are. Whichever side or wherever in the arguments you find yourself, I believe we should consider IT end users and customers more in this discussion, since they’re always right, right?

Tuxera dresses embedded Linux for convergence

It’s easy for ’embedded Linux’ to get lost in a confusing jumble of processors, hardware, devices and software, but there is no doubt the last couple of years have been marked by increased consolidation around mobile and embedded Linux, a trend that is ongoing and one that continues to draw significant players, such as HP with its recent acquisition of Phoenix Technologies’ HyperSpace instant-on OS to go along with its acquired Linux-based WebOS from Palm.

The consolidation and momentum, particularly for Android, have continued, but mobile and especially embedded Linux remain a disjoined and somewhat confusing topic and market. That’s why we see efforts such as Linaro and Meld trying to leverage and direct all of that mobile and embedded Linux and open source software that is fragmented by devices as much, if not more, than by code. The complexity and fragmented nature of the topic also means it’s good to speak with vendors at the center of this consolidation and convergence.

One such vendor is Tuxera, and we had a chance to speak with the Finnish-based company that is square in the middle of the mobile and embedded Linux trends thanks to its business based on interoperable filesystems NTFS and exFAT. The startup, which also has offices and major customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, agrees the consolidation and traction around embedded Linux and Android are markedly different than previous false starts in the market. While it has drawn some controversy for its IP deal with Microsoft, Tuxera says this allows it to benefit from the ability to offer support, integration and licensing for both NTFS and exFAT filesystems.

What is striking when speaking with Tuxera is the range of devices, applications and places that Linux, and also its filesystem technology, is showing up. Tuxera focuses on interoperable filesystems, so that USB, SD and other media can transport data to and from different devices with different operating systems. However, the company does see synergy in Linux, which thanks to efforts such as Android is now as present in consumer devices — smartphones, set-top boxes, televisions and automobiles — as Linux is in the enterprise server market.

Tuxera cuts through some of confusion in mobile and embedded space, focusing mainly on consumer electronics and other OEMs, semiconductor partners and software integrators. Tuxera is also working with industrial uses of embedded Linux and its filesystem technology, which is where folks usually begin to glaze over or tune out, but which nonetheless involves absolutely mission-critical uses and lucrative markets in government and military, medicine, space and transportation.

We’ll have more on Tuxera in a coming 451 Group report and we’ll also be staying in touch with the company as this mobile and embedded Linux story continues to unfold, expand and play into convergence.

LinuxCare relaunch reveals cloud lift for Linux

LinuxCare, which recently relaunched a new cloud computing-based Linux services business, had represented frankly a lot of the Linux support business, promise and opportunity that never quite lived up to the hype and expectations. LinuxCare, which suffered from lack of leadership and execution, later became Levanta, and we eventually questioned its Linux-only approach in an enterprise IT world increasingly made up of mixed-OS deployments. Levanta shut down, along with some other missed systems management efforts, in 2008.

The lack of novelty and uniqueness about Linux continued, and as we saw with Linux World 2008, Linux had become so well ingrained in enterprise IT that it truly seemed nobody cared. Like Levanta, LinuxWorld is now gone.

So why would now be the right time for another go at Linux support business? I believe the answer lies in the same response I’ve been offering a number of users, vendors and clients: cloud computing. We began watching more closely the use of Linux, including unpaid community Linux, in cloud computing a couple of years ago with our report, The Rise of Community Linux. Last year, we continued to track the use of Linux, and again community Linux, in cloud computing as we were still hearing about the use of both paid versions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server, but also community versions such as CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu, which is growing both its paid and unpaid use in cloud computing environments.

We’ve also seen cloud-specific versions and vendors, such as CloudLinux, which typically aim their cloud-tuned Linux software and support at specific verticals and industries. For CloudLinux, as well as for the major Linux vendors and others, that specific industry is hosting and other service providers moving to the clouds.

So a LinuxCare relaunch with with focus on supporting Linux for cloud computing infrastructure, applications and services makes some sense, and also highlights the continued business, benefits and opportunities of Linux as opposed to competing operating systems.

Open one way or another

Recent developments regarding Apple and the exposure of its iPhone OS non-disclosure agreements by the Electronic Frontier Foundation highlight a new reality for technology companies today: you may be able to keep you code private (though that is ill-advised), but your practices will be open – one way or another.

This is about more than open source software. It also has to do with global collaboration, integration, distributed and cloud computing and more. But open source software sure has a lot to do with it. In addition, open source software also has a lot to gain from it. For every developer, chipmaker, handset vendor, wireless carrier or other player alienated by Apple’s antiquated, zero-sum approach, there are now typically open source alternatives that allow them to quickly and efficiently fight back.

We’ve covered our concerns about Apple’s control issues, and we’ve also highlighted how the company is creating opportunity for more open alternatives to capture developers, mindshare and yes, believe it or not, consumers. This is the picture we foresaw in our 2008 report, Mobility Matters, where we described the first Android phone, the G1, not as an Apple iPhone killer, but an impressive first step and a sign of an oncoming onslaught of iPhone alternatives, all with openness advantages for hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers that can maintain or create their own brands, and also openness advantages for developers and users in the software available for the devices.

Sure, we’re seeing the some of the same old concerns of fragmentation with Android, but similar to how I tend to view forking — as a positive check on quality, vitality and future direction — I agree with some of the sentiment that fragmentation isn’t so bad and is simply part of the market evolution. Matt also covered this recently on the CAOS Theory blog with his post on the Eclipse Mylyn project, which is actually hoping for and relying on fragmentation to grow. I believe there is resonance in the idea of Android, or an army of Androids well armed by a myriad of hardware companies, software companies, wireless carriers and perhaps most importantly, developers. So what if they’re a little fragmented and wearing different uniforms? What really unites these disparate forces? Sure some of it is Linux and open source software, but more of it centers on competing with Apple and paying it back for getting closed out of its elegant, walled garden.

So now there are some cracks in the high walls and we are getting some perspective on how far Apple is going to keep people from talking about what it’s doing, what it’s asking and what it’s developing. It’s an amazing contrast to what’s going on throughout the rest of IT and even — thanks not only to Android but also to embedded Linux, popular social networking sites and games — among consumers.

We often warn open source software vendors not to ‘undo’ the benefits of open source software, particularly its transparency and flexibility. We believe the inevitable exposure of such Draconian measures is a big reason and as recently demonstrated by Apple, everyone has to open up, one way or another.

2010 kicks off era of hidden Linux

For something as open as Linux — the open source operating system developed by thousands of individuals and dozens of companies — you wouldn’t think it would be so hidden, but that’s exactly what Linux will be in 2010 and beyond. We’ve already discussed progress for non-desktop Linux and the layered pervasiveness of Linux. Now let’s consider what might happen as Linux quietly finds its way into even more consumer and enterprise use.

The most prominent yet most hidden place this is happening is in embedded devices — which range from consumer electronics such as media players, set-top boxes and televisions to automotive infotainment to industrial control technology to aerospace and military technology. We’ve seen some consolidation and M&A around embedded Linux, particularly the Android OS backed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, with deals such as Intel-Wind River, Mentor Graphics-Embedded Alley and most recently, Cavium Networks-MontaVista. In addition, processor players including ARM Holdings and MIPS Technologies are supporting Android and embedded Linux. Soon behind the current cavalcade of Android-based smartphones hitting the market, we can expect even more various devices running Android and other forms of embedded Linux. What we shouldn’t expect is to see or hear the word ‘Linux’ in any advertising, packaging or campaigning.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more Linux and other open source software in mobile devices today — Android, Nexus One, WebOS, LiMO, Moblin, Ubuntu Netbook Remix and more — but we’re not really hearing or seeing it as ‘mobile Linux.’ Obviously there continues to be some degree of fragmentation, but given Google and the many Android-based devices that continue to come to market, there is also consolidation here, too. Linux may be stronger than it ever has in mobile devices in 2010, but don’t look for Linux by name. It’s unlikely you’ll see it from the handset manufacturers, software vendors, wireless carriers and others who are pushing it.

Next up, there will be much more virtual Linux, particularly in Microsoft and Windows shops that are enjoying greater integration and support of Linux from Redmond. This — along with the growing base of enterprise Linux users leveraging virtualization and additional commercial support from Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and others — will help fuel more virtual Linux traction and growth. However, don’t expect Microsoft to talk too loudly about virtual Linux options and keep in mind we are still, even now in 2010, relatively early on in the enterprise adoption of server virtualization.

Moving on, what better place for Linux to hide inconspicuously than in cloud computing? We’ve covered the significance of community Linux in the enterprise and also community Linux in the clouds. With more support for community software and growing desire to build private and hybrid clouds, Linux (both commercial and community) figures prominently into the equation as a basic, flexible yet scalable building block. The end result is both use of Linux to build cloud infrastructure and availability of Linux in the clouds, even though it is likely to be labeled or branded something other than ‘Linux.’

So while we can expect major market gains and new inroads for Linux, the further the open source OS spreads, the less likely we are to really see how far.

A new desktop Linux pitch

At last month’s LinuxCon event, I enjoyed talks on desktop Linux from the likes of Dirk Hohndel and IBM’s Bob Sutor, but to completely honest, I wasn’t quite sure I understood their thinking when they implored desktop Linux creators and supporters to look beyond Windows replacement and emulation. I get the idea of being different or better as opposed to just a replacement, but I wasn’t quite sure how this would translate to customers or in the market. However, after the recent announcement from IBM and Canonical of a Linux-based desktop package and some recent press inquiries, I’m beginning to see the light.

You see, it has less to do with the the user interface and more to do with the user. Instead of focusing on Windows familiarity, the latest strategy takes advantage of users in a position, whether by trade or preference or chance, to use Linux, provide some savings and maybe even go further in supporting themselves. These are the new Linux desktop users in enterprise and business. While Windows 7 and Microsoft’s dominance will likely continue to hold most of the desktop, there are a handful of significant differences this time around:

1.) The IBM-Canonical Client for Smart Work — a package of Ubuntu Linux, Eclipse, and IBM Lotus and other collaboration and productivity software — was originally rolled out and intended for emerging markets, initially Africa. However, based on customer queries and demand, it is now being offered in the U.S. I believe this may indicate that America, while still behind Europe and other parts of the world in adopting desktop Linux, is keeping up with desktop Linux growth, progress and demand.

2.) Economic conditions are driving reassessments of all enterprise and smaller business IT and planning, including desktop, laptop, netbook and other PCs. This does not mean that desktop Linux will necessarily benefit, but if the server side is any indication, it will gain considerably more interest and use.

3.) New models are changing the way enterprise and other users use a PC. Virtual appliances, virtual desktops and cloud computing all usher in radically new desktop models and make Linux more likely to enter the picture (whether or not customers are aware of it). The movement of the desktop support from the IT helpdesk to the datacenter also bodes well for Linux, which has a strong foothold and following on the server. Furthermore, consistency of Linux across PCs, netbooks, datacenters and networks may also make desktop Linux hardware, efficiency, energy and support savings more dramatic and appealing.

4.) New vendors (non-Linux vendors) will be offering more Linux. We see a range of IT players — service providers, hosters, system integrators, VARs and others — increasingly using Linux and delivering Linux to their customers, who may or may not be aware they are running Linux. This is where there may be most opportunity for desktop Linux among SMBs.

5.) Finally, Windows 7 and the need to upgrade hardware and continue to license OS software and pay for upgrades arrives at a time when it is no longer the norm to refresh desktops every two or three years, and it is increasingly attractive to find a Linux alternative to push licensing costs over to support, where there is great need. This may be one of the last efforts with this older model, particularly considering all of the trends mentioned above with Linux.