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Open-source chief optimistic about proprietary support

Interoperability appeals

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The incoming president of an alliance of open-source companies hopes he can persuade big-name proprietary ISVs to join rivals in his group to further interoperability.

Recently named Open Solutions Alliance president Anthony Gold told The Reg that his goal is to take the two-year-old organization to the "next level" by turning it into a destination for practical advice on interoperability between proprietary and closed-source software.

To get there, Gold hopes he can persuade Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and others to join the group, even though the OSA membership includes JasperSoft, Ingres, and Talend, that challenge Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM in business intelligence, databases, and integration. The OSA is a not-for-profit group of 20 customers and open-source companies and communities.

Gold said he has good relations with people at Microsoft and Oracle to open the door, and characterized his talks as "ongoing". Gold will likely try to leverage his contacts through his main job as vice president and general manager of Unisys' open-source business.

He replaced Dominic Sartorio as OSA president last month. Sartorio is an executive with Spike Source, a start-up that's tried to make money offering interoperability and integration between different open-source software components.

Gold said that it's important to get companies together in an atmosphere of non-competition to focus on interoperability.

"The beauty of the OSA is we are not trying to monetize [interoperability] - that's very different to being a commercial company," Gold said. "End-user companies, open-source companies, and commercial-software companies - they have their day job, but here you take your ego out and look at where the industry is going."

Like many before him, Gold's model is for a resource similar to Microsoft's Developer Network (MSDN), which will serve up reference architectures, prototypes, code snippets, and white papers developed in a non-partisan forum.

"A key piece of what the OSA did in the first few years was driving the standards part around open source and putting reference architectures together. The next step is to expand into interoperability," Gold said.

Input from proprietary vendors is important, he said, because "the more you can create a community the more value it's going to be to the community".

Whether Gold is successful or not will depend on a number of factors. Arguably the biggest will be simply breaking through the bureaucracy that leads to inertia in companies such as Oracle and Microsoft, when it comes to getting them to take a decision or make a commitment. Often, that can simply be matter of finding the "right" person.

And that leads onto the next hurdle: to get such companies to act, you must ensure that what you're offering suits the agenda of either that person or the company.

Microsoft has a recent history of engaging with open-source companies and organizations - if selectively. Working in the OSA's favor is the fact that its members are application vendors rather than Linux companies. Microsoft sees Linux as a platform competitor to Windows, and a bigger enemy compared to application vendors. Microsoft can always compete on applications down the road, but a platform sale lost to Linux is a lost platform sale.

Unfortunately for the OSA, Microsoft's engagement with open-source is not company-wide and is being driven by a small band of dedicated individuals inside the 90,000-odd Microsoft army: these include the 120 or under the director of Microsoft's open-source development lab Sam Ramji.

Oracle, meanwhile, has a history of slow decision making. It's contributions in open-source have - meanwhile - furthered Linux instead of applications, which are a core of its business. Linux has helped drive sales of its database. It's difficult to understand on what basis the OSA can appeal to Oracle when the giant competes with at least three members.

IBM, while large and slow moving, has a history of pragmatism when it comes to product competition. IBM Global Services in particular has track-record of picking products from rivals over IBM's software and hardware based on best of breed or customer preference. The same pragmatism could potentially rub off when it comes to the OSA, given IBM's code, community, and standards-based backing for open source and Linux during the last eight years. ®

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