Succeeding with Open Source
Chapter 1, The Source of Open Source
Finding open source software is relatively simple, since there are multiple places users can go to access available open source software. In this chapter you'll learn how to find open source products via open source portals, individual product websites and commercial distributions.
Finding open source software
Where Do I Get Open Source Software?
Open source software is available from many different places. Individual open source products might have their own Web site to make the product available. There are several open source portals, which act as repositories of open source software. Many open source products are available at these portals, making them convenient for locating products via the portal's search capability. Finally, a few open source products are available for sale, typically made available by companies that have bundled the basic open source product along with some useful utilities and possibly an improved installation mechanism. Much more is said about commercial distributions in Chapter 2, "Open Source Business Models."
Individual Open Source Product Web Sites
Some very well established open source products have their own Web sites that act as the main distribution mechanism for the software. The Web sites act as gathering points for developers and the user community to interact. They often have forums for discussions and questions among the community. News about the product will be available as well. These Web sites are the electronic equivalent of an old-fashioned country store in which transactions, friendships, information swapping, and gossip all take place. The sites themselves can easily be found via a Google search on the product name.
Open Source Portals
Open source portals offer a centralized location for open source products. The portals host open source projects, offering a number of services that make starting and maintaining an open source project much easier. As noted earlier, the fact that many projects are homed in a single portal offers real value to users, as they can easily search and sift through hundreds or even thousands of projects to find the right one. A fuller description of the services offered by the leading open source portal, SourceForge (www.sourceforge.net), is contained later in Chapter 5, "The Open Source Product."
SOURCEFORGE: AN OVERVIEW
SourceForge is a tremendous resource for open source users and developers. It offers a full range of services to developers, freeing them from creating project infrastructure. Instead, they can take advantage of what SourceForge provides.
One interesting question is how did SourceForge itself come into existence? Who took it upon themselves to create this community resource? SourceForge was originally created by employees of VA Linux (now known as VA Software). VA Linux was a hotbed of open source activity centered on Linux, and SourceForge was a fairly informal portal set up as a casual project. However, as the number of projects grew, VA Linux recognized that the site needed to be robustly engineered to handle the traffic it was receiving. They put a team in charge that extended the functionality, implemented a scalable architecture, and planned future enhancements. SourceForge is now one of a number of open-source-oriented portals operated by OSDN, a subsidiary of VA Software.
A few open source products are available for sale. I know that this sounds like a contradiction of the term open source, but commercial open source products do exist. The commercial product is usually offered along with other product-oriented services, like technical support or training. Even in the companies that offer a commercial version of an open source product, however, usually the product is available at zero price as well. The version sold is merely made available in a more convenient format (e.g., on a CD) or as part of a larger product offering that bundles services along with the software.
The Challenge of Anonymous Distribution
One of the most interesting, yet frustrating, aspects of open source is that not only is it available at zero price, but it is available anonymously. You don't have to identify yourself to download the product: no forms to fill in, no credit card information (unless the product is purchased), no nothing.
This is absolutely a delight. Nothing stands between you and the product. You don't have to provide personal information to get the product. There is no need to go through an extended capital request cycle because the product costs nothing. Indeed, the easy availability can pose a problem, which is discussed in Chapter 3, "Open Source Risks."
On the other hand, it can be quite frustrating that the user base for an open source product is essentially faceless and nameless. Many times, the open source developers will have no idea of the identity of most of their users. Companies might be using the product as a key part of their software infrastructure, and no one will know. If you are assessing an open source product, this can pose quite a challenge. With a commercial product, you can ask to see customer references and talk with actual users to hear how the product has worked for them. In the open source world, it can be quite difficult to locate specific users to get the same information. There are ways to address this problem, which are discussed in Chapter 5, "The Open Source Product," but nonetheless the anonymity of open source can seem quite odd.
When and How Do I Use Open Source?
These are intertwined questions. The right time to use open source is when both you and the product are ready. How to use open source is the subject of this book. The practices you (and the IT industry) have used over the past 40 years won't work with open source products. A whole new method of selecting and evaluating products is required to succeed with open source. The thesis of this book is that successful organizations will recognize that new methods are required and will implement them when they begin to work with open source.
The next two chapters of the book address open source business models and open source risks. Chapter 4 starts off the discussion about how to succeed with open source. It outlines the types of technology users and why the key question users must ask about any open source product is, "How mature is it?"
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This was first published in January 2009