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Open Source

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What Is Open Source?

Technically, “open source” means software that issupplied with the original code in which it was written allowing others to view, modify, adapt, and improve this code. This can include software that cannot be redistributed without explicit permission (and often a payment) to the software owner. Most people now define “open source” more narrowly to as software with the following further characteristics:

• It is protected by copyright, but not patents.

• It has a “copy-left” license (GNU license or similar), which states that it can be redistributed for no charge, but the source code and modifications must be licensed out under the same terms that it was licensed in. Sample licenses are available at Please note, that it is acceptable to sell commercial software in a bundle with this “open source” software.

Open source software is not the same as “shareware” or “freeware” which often does not come with source code and has zero cost as its defining characteristic. Open source software, may or may not be zero cost.
The benefit of open source software is that when people are allowed to read, distribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves and gets better.
Open Source in Brief

In practice, a typical open-source project uses a web or other internet site as the repository for the source code, documentation, discussions, design documents, bug and issue lists, and other artifacts associated with the project. A particular person or group is the copyright owner for the source, at least initially, and this owner grants permission for individuals or other groups to make modifications to the source mediated through a version control system such as CVS (Concurrent Versions System). Periodic builds are automatically produced, and there are usually several versions of varying stability and age compiled and prebuilt for a number of platforms that anyone can download and try out.

Ownership versus licensing is an important distinction to grasp. Even when rights are broadly granted through a license with considerable freedom about what an outside party can do with the source, it is still owned by the copyright holders who can do whatever they wish with the source, including selling it, granting other licenses to it, or changing the direction of its development.

Some open-source projects, especially those whose source is owned by companies, establish a governance mechanism that ensures that the community has a recognized voice in decision making, which in turn makes the playing field more level than it otherwise might be.

Significance of Open Source

The open source development process differs sharply from the traditional commercial off- the- shelf (COTS) model. Eric Raymond likens the corporate or traditional COTS model, where by a corporation produces and sells proprietary software, to a cathedral and the open source model to a bazaar.11 In the corporate model, individuals or small groups of individuals quietly and reverently develop software in isolation, without releasing a beta version before it is deemed ready. In contrast, the open source model relies on a network of “volunteer” programmers, with differing styles and agendas, who develop and debug the code in parallel. From the submitted modifications, the delegated leader chooses whether or not to accept one of the modifications. If the leader thinks the modification will benefit many users, he will choose the best code from all of the submittals and incorporate it into the OSS updates. The software is released early and often.

Benefits and Risks of Open Source Software Compared to Traditional COTS

Due to the different development models, Program Managers can achieve many benefits over traditional COTS by using OSS. Popular open source products have access to extensive technical expertise, and this enables the software to achieve a high level of efficiency, using less lines of code than its COTS counterparts. The rapid release rate of OSS distributes fixes and patches quickly, potentially an order of magnitude faster than those of commercial software. OSS is relatively easy to manage because it often incorporates elements such as central administration and remote management. Because the source code is publicly available, Program Managers can have the code tailored to meet their specific needs and tightly control system resources. Moreover, Program Managers can re-use code written by others for similar tasks or purposes. This enables Program Managers to concentrate on developing the features unique to their current task, instead of spending their effort on rethinking and re-writing code that has already been developed by others. Code re-use reduces development time and provides predictable results. With access to the source code, the lifetime of OSS systems and their upgrades can be extended indefinitely. In contrast, the lifetime of traditional COTS systems and their upgrades cannot be extended if the vendor does not share its code and either goes out of business, raises its prices prohibitively, or reduces the quality of the software prohibitively. The open source model builds open standards and achieves a high degree of interoperability. While traditional COTS typically depends on monopoly support with one company providing support and “holding all the cards” (i.e., access to the code) for a piece of software, the publicly available source code for OSS enables many vendors to learn the platform and provide support. Because OSS vendors compete against one another to provide support, the quality of support increases while the end-user cost of receiving the support decreases. Open source can create support that lasts as long as there is demand, even if one support vendor goes out of business. For government acquisition purposes, OSS adds potential as a second-source “bargaining chip” to improve
COTS support

Why do Open Source Projects Exist?

a. Possible economic and technical advantages

The use of open source is argued to bring several benefits in comparison to proprietary developing models.[1] These advantages can be economic, e.g. the reduction in research and development costs on the one hand, and technical i.e. resulting in better quality of code, on the other. The traditional argument is that open source offers the software developer increased reliability: it has been said that “given enough eyeballs, every bug [in the code] is shallow”.[2] This means that given a large enough base of beta-testers and co-developers, practically every problem in the code can be solved by the time of release. This is not always the case in traditional, in-house programming team constructed software packages.

The OSS community admits that there can be valid cases for keeping the code closed. If considerable research and development effort is required to produce a product based on a new technology, then keeping the code closed would seem to be a plausible business strategy. They are quick to remind, however, that once a competitor comes up with a similar product, one should go open source in order to encourage the best pool of co-developers to invest time in it and thus enhance the life cycle of the product


To understand open source, it helps to make a distinction between a commodity economy, to which we are accustomed in a capitalist society, and a gift economy. In a gift economy, gifts are exchanged, forming a bond based on mutual obligation: In the simplest form of gift exchange, when one person gives a gift to another, the receiver becomes obligated to the giver, but not in a purely mercenary way rather, the recipient becomes very much like a member of the giver’s family where mutual obligations are many, varied, and long lasting. A person may give a gift with the realistic expectation that someday a gift of equal or greater use value will be received or that the recipient will pass on a further gift. In an open-source project, the gift of source code is reciprocated by suggestions, bug reports, debugging, hard work, praise, and more source code.

The commodity economy depends on scarcity. Its most famous law is that of ‘‘diminishing returns,’’ whose working requires a fixed supply. Scarcity of material or scarcity of competitors creates high profit margins. It works through competition.

The gift economy is an economy of abundance the gifts exchanged is inexhaustible. Gift economies are embedded within noneconomic institutions such as kinship, marriage, hospitality, artistic patronage, and ritual friendship. A healthy Western family operates on a gift economy. In an open-source project, the status and reputation of individuals depend on the quality of the gifts they contribute.

Making Money from Open Source Software

In the late 1990s companies started working out how to turn the superior reliability and development speed of shared open software development into a business proposition. The following are some of the most popular business ways companies are doing this:

• Sell service and support of open source software that your company does not control. This is what companies like Red Hat and Suse (Novell) do with Linux, which is controlled by Linus Torvalds and his followers. See and

• Create open source software your firm controls, and sell service, support, and commercial versions related to this software. Examples are: JBoss, the #3 Java-based Web Application Server (; OpenOffice (StarOffice), Sun Microsystems’ alternative to Microsoft Office (; Sendmail, the #1 F500 email system (; and mySQL, a database that competes against Oracle and IBM’s DB2 (

• Sell a product or service that uses open source software as an element of a total offering. This is what companies do when they make commercial web applications that use PHP, run on Linux, are written in Perl or provide web services running on the Apache Web Server.

• Provide open source software for hardware you sell. For example, companies that make computer printers sometimes provide the source code for their printer drivers so that experienced programmers can adapt these printer drivers to fit operating systems or perform functions that the company is not interested in writing themselves. As a result of having the drivers available as open source, the company sells more printers.

• Open source a software product to reduce support costs at the end of life. This is often what companies do to improve their reputation and reduce their support costs for products where they can no longer make revenues.

• Provide dual licensing for a software product. this is actually how mySQL is marketed (see above). Companies can either use the version based on an open source license for free or can pay to have a license that allows them to sell a modified version of the database as part of their total product offering.

• Build an ecosystem. For example Palm has successfully shared the source code of their PDAs to make it easier for other companies to write software that works with this product, making the overall offering more attractive.

Resources Available with Open Source

It is worth pointing out that there are a lot of development and marketing opportunities available when a company chooses to go down the open source route that are not available if you keep your software proprietary. These can improve product quality, reduce development cost or reduce marketing cost. Examples are:

• Quality control and improvement. By providing your source code, others can review this and suggest improvements and give these back to you.

• New applications. By providing your source code, others can adapt this to applications you never thought of.

• Easy distribution. There are many websites (such as,, etc) that will freely publicize your open source product.

Business Model for OSS

The only thing that stays the same is change and open source is no different. Open source projects arise from different origins and may progress from one business model to another. They may start out as commercial code and they may give rise to commercial enterprise. Some of the possible paths that a project may take in its business model are depicted below.


The Models Examined

“I'm Open!” – Embedded (Wannabe) – Enterprise-class software vendor includes open source in their for-fee licensed solutions. The code may have originated at the vendor and been `contributed' or is may be community code that is pervasive.
Examples: Apache Tomcat in WebSphere; Eclipse

“Lite” – Loss Leader (Trojan Horse) – real agenda is licensed software sale. Source is “open”, but for all practical purposes, the only contributions or support comes from one vendor.
Examples: ActiveBPEL/ActiveWebFlow; Celtix/Artix; MySQL Community/Pro

“Legacy” – new life for old code (Dinosaur) – Unfortunately vendors cannot be expected to support un-profitable products forever. But many enterprises have implemented business solutions that continue to provide business value based on “legacy” products. There is nothing pejorative in the word legacy, and modern software architecture, especially service-oriented architecture, provides mechanisms to continue to derive value from these systems. But enhancements may be necessary to enable integration. How do we resolve these conflicting agendas? The software vendor may “contribute” the once for-fee licensed software as open source to the user community. The vendor no longer officially provides support. But the customers may well still be important to the vendor, so the vendor may provide resources to incubate the project. This is a short-term commitment and the real intention is to shift support to a community of users. Besides the possibility of re-invigorating the product as a community open source project, it is possible that a commercial interest may come forward and provide support in the “parallel universes” model.
Examples: OpenIngres, Fedora

“Parallel Universes” – Enterprise-class support (Brand Name) – Software vendor “piggybacks” on robust open source project to provide SLA-class support to enterprises that require it or find it provides value.
Examples: Red Hat Linux, Debian, JBoss, TAO.

“Jump Start” – Bleeding-Edge Technology (Embryo) –vendor-created and attempted launch of a for-fee licensed software product, but unable to achieve critical mass in the marketplace. This may have been because supporting tools were not yet available or it may have been because the product was so advanced that potential buyers did not yet recognize the value. Open source effort is designed to appeal to like-minded early adopters – who may not have the budget to purchase an unproven but innovative technology.
Example: PXE

“Community” – Collaborative Software (Good Guys in White Hats) – technologists created a solution to a known problem for their own needs and saw the benefit of sharing code, innovation, and support across organizations for the benefit of all.
Examples: Apache Commons, Mule



There are many business models for open source and each has an important and valuable role to play. It is important for an enterprise to consider their specific needs and how the business model behind the open source project aligns with these needs. It is also important to recognize that the business model may evolve as the open source project and the community that uses and supports it evolves.

Open source provides an exciting channel for innovation and a fascinating array of business models. If used wisely, it can provide dramatic benefits in cost and quality. Business Integration Technology‟s open source strategy is to work with our customers and leverage their existing IT infrastructure where it makes sense, but to leverage open source to fill the gaps and integrate it all in a service-oriented approach.


Open source software can co-exist with proprietary programs. In some instances it can be more plausible to choose open code than keep it closed: ultimately it is up to the firm’s business strategy. In any case, the ideology of commons in the field of software is here to stay, and legislation, as well as commercial actors will adapt to it like they always have when a new way of doing business has arrived.







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