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2011: The year open source (really) goes capitalist

Anyone can play guitar. Or open source

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Open...and Shut If 2010 was the year that taught open source "how to disappear completely," 2011 will be the year we're reminded that "anyone can play guitar"…or open source. At present, open source is de rigueur with the underdog class, those vendors seeking to challenge incumbents like Apple and Oracle.

But open source will take center stage with industry leaders in 2011, as it already has in the mobile battlefield with Google's Android, much to Apple's chagrin. It's not just about using open source to gain market share. It's also a matter of using open source to keep regulators at bay. As Funambol CEO Fabrizio Capobianco rightly points out, open source saved mobile telecom operators from net neutrality regulations. The FCC decided that "meaningful recent moves toward openness" largely obviated the need for more regulation. That's a message that even the stodgiest of proprietary players will want to mimic.

Open source, however, is more art than science. It's a non-trivial task to build and sustain communities, which is why in 2011 we'll see the pace of open source M&A increase. Who is likely to be bought? Cloudera, Riptano, and other companies playing in the fast-moving "Big Data" and cloud infrastructure markets. I suspect we'll also see the emergence of a new crop of open-source mobile companies that will be born in 2011, and a few of which will get bought.

Who won't get bought in 2011? Novell, thankfully, but I wouldn't rule out an acquisition of Attachmate's SUSE asset. In fact, I think it's probable. I also doubt we'll see the buy-out of open-source vendors playing in old markets. Given that open source is no longer a differentiator, M&A interest will be in disruptive business models, focused on new markets. We should expect to see some veteran open-source companies reinvent themselves in 2011 to take advantage of this and, surprisingly, a few of them will actually succeed.

Microsoft: a rare foray into (gasp!) standards

Speaking of old dogs learning new tricks, while Microsoft's Windows and Office businesses continue to run at full steam, Microsoft recognizes it needs an Act III as it comes under withering competition from a variety of vendors.

Unsurprisingly, open source and open standards will play a key part in Microsoft's 2011 arsenal, but particularly open standards like HTML5.

Microsoft, finally recognizing that it is a true underdog in everything but desktop operating systems and productivity suites, is about the discover the "Interoperability Imperative." This doesn't mean the company is suddenly going to develop a crush for Linux, but rather that it will seek to shore up its fading browser fortunes, and close the mobile app gap, with HTML5 support.

Mind you, I'm not referring to Microsoft's traditional (cue devilish laugh) support for standards, which usually involves skewing the standards to promote its own technologies (OOXML, anyone?), but real support for true interoperability.

Microsoft's first foray into wacky world of playing nicely comes with its Firefox plugin for H.264 video. H.264 is, for better or for worse, the closest thing we have to a standard codec for HTML5, and Microsoft just plugged Firefox's lack of built-in support for the codec. Has Microsoft gone soft in the head? No. It finally recognizes that the world no longer revolves around it, and that it must therefore embrace an unfettered web. At least for now.

If Microsoft can use HTML5 and other means to breathe new life into its still stunted Windows Phone 7 and wilting Internet Explorer market share, it can and will. Microsoft used to be king of developers, but the big apps like Netflix have turned to open source and open standards to get their products out the door fast.

Microsoft's fettering of the web must wait until positive momentum is established.

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