news.com reports that corporate development is starting to embrace the use of scripted languages that were once thought to be the domain of hobbyists. In that same vein, they mention that Oracle is expected to anounce a partnership with Zend Technologies will provide tools to ease Oracle/PHP integration.
This is the second story that I have read in as many weeks about the same subject. So, open source, not new vocabulary in the corporate offices of the world by any means, is really gaining traction in corporate development. In the past, it seemed that the best thing that open source had to offer was lack of licensing costs. However, the corporate development world is now starting to see the other advantages, one of the chief ones being less vendor dependance (via slashdot). Anyone who has spent time working with vendors and dealing with their inflated expectations, broken promises and increasing licensing costs can appreciate this advantage. Lower cost is certainly still an advantage, but this lower cost usually means lower acquisition cost that can come at the expense of higher implementation costs.
One of the arguments against open source that seems to come from executive management frequently is lack of support. One can’t blame a CEO for questioning the use of software that he or she thinks has been developed by a bunch of hackers in their basements (as wrong as this perception might be). However, now that IT groups have shown positive results with some projects, executives are feeling more comfortable having more critical applications run on open source.
The lack of support argument is another misconception in my opinion though. Pick almost any open source project such as PHP, PERL, Python or Linux and one will find a thriving community of developers and users. Anyone armed with a web browser and a search engine is likely to find the answer to just about any problem they encounter. If the answer is not available, there are plenty of people to ask who will be willing to help. Compare this to a community using a vendor specific product that is just as widely deployed, such as Visual Basic, and the vendor specific community just doesn’t measure up.
Sure, there are many websites, newsgroups and message boards dedicated to VB development, but the community does not seem to thrive in the same way that the Python community, as an example, thrives. Perhaps VB developers, being largely corporate developers, feel less comfortable sharing information with the world at large (a world that includes their competitors). Another reason might be that when a product is vendor specific, the community looks to the vendor first for help. When there is no vendor, the community must look to itself.
As corporations continue to utilize open source in their organizations, I hope that they will find ways to support the open source community. Corporations will be hesitant to put their customized code back into the community. In many cases, these customizations will be very specific to that organization and of little use to anyone else. Perhaps corporate developers can be beneficial to the open source community in other ways such as offering their expertise in answering questions and helping other users. IT managers in corporations should also lobby their companies to support the projects directly that they have benefited from. This direct support could come in the form of financial donations, or through he donation of other resources such as equipment.
The corporate world will be increasing its use of open source technology in the future. This could be a big win for both the open source community and the corporations. There will also be plenty of room for vendors to market their products as well. Let’s hope that corporations can be good citizens in the open source community rather than just takers of what they perceive to be free.