Why 2011 Is The Year Of Open Source


The patent wars currently raging between Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others don’t appear to be ready to abate anytime soon, and Google’s decision to plunk down $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility and its patent portfolio indicates it may very well escalate.

Intellectual property disputes have been an unfortunate cross-current throughout the entire history of the IT industry, but are essential elements of a competitive and cutting-edge time in our industry. But advancements over the past year by the open-source community -- mainly developers and development teams that create brilliant technology and then share it with the world for free -- indicate there’s another approach that can provide success.

From the OpenStack cloud platform to major advancements in Asterisk, the open-source VoIP platform, the open-source model appears to be hitting a strong stride in every aspect of information technology in 2011.

This week, The Linux Foundation is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Linux – giving many observers the opportunity to consider whether it’s achieved much traction beyond heavy, iron-based server solutions or niche technologies. Pardon the cliche, but those questions miss the forest for the trees.

Linux revolutionized the concept of sharing and collaborating on technology through the open-source model, a model that not only holds up 20 years later but is accelerating. With Google open-sourcing Android, NASA and RackSpace open-sourcing OpenStack, Oracle continuing to open-source MySQL, the list goes on and on with critical contributions of "community" to all aspects of consumer and enterprise technology.

And to those who continue to question whether open source can lead to a business model of any success, the answer is simple: look on your map to Armonk, N.Y., and IBM headquarters. While the company has the largest patent library in the universe, it has also spent more than 10 years as primary contributor to open-source communities. It has also been one of the most consistent businesses in the world in terms of revenue and profit growth during that time -- a time when it has completely transformed its business from leading with iron to leading with software and solutions. And it has largely avoided the messy patent-dispute headlines of many of its IT industry brethren.

Which brings us back to 2011.

The tectonic shifts in technology now – with mobility, cloud computing, data management and more – are all enabled to critical degrees by the work and contributions of open-source communities. While companies like Apple and Microsoft make money hand-over-fist with proprietary technology, they are constantly racing to stay ahead of free, open-source software -- whether Ubuntu, Android, OpenSuse or MySQL.

It almost takes away the sting for us who have been steeped in technology for so long to consider, for a moment, that Linux has been around as long as it has.