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The rise and rise of Linux is opening up the whole software market to open source products, writes Martin Langham, of Bloor Research According to a recent CIO survey of 375 IT professionals, the IT community is growing more comfortable with the open-source development model, reporting that open source will dominate their Web server application platforms and server operating systems within five years.

Why is this? CIOs say the greatest benefits from using open source are lower total cost of ownership, lower capital investment and greater reliability and uptime. They also say that open source provides greater flexibility and control and enables faster, cheaper application development.

It is clear that open source is cheaper and this alone is a significant factor in its adoption - but more reliable and flexible needs more analysis. At first glance, the process of developing software by independent teams would seem to be fraught with problems.

The low cost of collaboration on the Internet supports a huge pool of developers and shareable code. When you enhance open-source software, you have to provide others with the source so they can build on it further. The economics favour distributing these additions. If the developer sits on the code, they will have the whole task of maintaining and supporting it - if they give it away the task is shared amongst the huge number of open source users.

Because the source code is available for all to see, secret or accidental trapdoors cannot hope to survive expert scrutiny by third parties. Competition amongst open source developers also drives quality. If a software contribution is not good enough, the software publishers will discard it in favour of a better contribution - a Darwinian approach to software quality that even Microsoft cannot afford.

Open source has taken off in the commodity category of infrastructure software but the open source economic model works less well where proprietary knowledge is involved - where an author's knowledge of best practice and specific algorithms are more valuable than the software itself.

However as these software applications mature and lose their uniqueness, they become candidates for the open source movement. In the case of content management, a number of open source contenders are emerging but Bricolage, in particular, stands out in terms of capability.

Bricolage is an actively developed content management system with a browser-based interface. It has most of the features you would expect from a full-featured content management system, including distributed authoring of content, workflow and support for user roles and groups. The product was built to run Salon.com. Visiting this site gives a useful and interesting demonstration of its capabilities.

All things being equal, the majority of IT executives surveyed in the CIO survey said they would choose open source for a new implementation over a proprietary vendor solution. It would be a very premature to predict the decline of the proprietary software industry in general and Microsoft in particular. But there is no doubt that open source software is becoming a significant element in most organisations plans - not only at the infrastructure level but also in specialised applications.

© IT-Analysis.com

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