Open Source

Future of Open Source: Enterprise, Mobile and Open Data

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When people think of Enterprise IT many think of old fashioned “glass house” data centers, closed off from the outside world.

This closed view of the data center is being obliterated in almost every dimension by the open source movement, virtualization and cloud. Enterprises today are acquiring open source components to speed development, their developers actively participating in open source communities. Code is moving on a two-way street, open source flowing in from outside the Enterprise and contributions of code flowing back out to community and project sites. At the same time virtualization and cloud technologies, mostly built on open source, have disaggregated and distributed “glass house” compute resources beyond the physical boundaries of the enterprise.

And while the prior generation of the data center is moving rapidly into computing history, so has the notion of the client device, which for much of the past 30 years has been the traditional PC. Now today, mobile devices and everywhere-access have redefined computing for individuals. Enterprises are pouring investment into applications to “mobile-enable” their employees while the mobile industry enjoys tremendous new growth. And the mobile industry, completely revolutionized in the last few years, is another leading example of the power of open source. Android has become a major mobile operating system, and an overwhelming number of new development and open source projects are focused on mobile. (See Black Duck’s recent analysis of trends in mobile open source.)

I go to Asia three or four times a year. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) there aren’t just using Android as strictly an operating system for handsets. Instead, they are using Android to add value and create a range of new products in ways they couldn’t with closed source platforms, and we will see that reflected in new handset and tablet products this year.

Thanks to Android, OEM/ODM developers can get into the driver and “kernel space” layers of their designs, with the ability to do things such as improve battery life, antenna and screen performance, and create new form factors that would be difficult to impossible for them to do on a closed platform. They can also modify or even create new user interfaces to deliver tailored and unique user experiences on cell phones and tablets. The debates our industry has had regarding “the desktop of the future” seem dated today.

In the mobile and electronics segments, a robust, open ecosystem is developing. Many of the big handset makers in Asia have dozens to as many as 100 software component suppliers, building everything from algorithms to subsystems. They can amass a complete solution, largely using open source, with release cycles measured in just a few months. This lets them choose from among more component suppliers. It lets them build their own ecosystems and, from them, unique, differentiated solutions in a segment viewed only recently as “commoditizing.”

The recent growth of Asian brands in the U.S. like HTC, MSI and Huawei is tied directly to the freedom open source offers to differentiate and tailor their products. We will see more form factors than just handsets and tablets leveraging this effect, and I think we’ll see more regional brands going global as a result.

Following the success of the mobile industry, I see the automobile industry opening up to open source. It has already started with entertainment systems, but we’re also seeing open source software used in telemetry, braking and other subsystems systems. Our cars are becoming software platforms – open source software platforms.

Most people think of open source as a grass-roots, bottoms-up phenomenon. It’s interesting that this happens differently in the auto industry. Cars are top down: automakers decide definitively what software goes into their cars. They have to – they are accountable to government safety regulators, which vary by country.

And perhaps the most significant trend shaping the future of open source is open data. In a recent Black Duck analysis we came across about 20 different open data projects related to public transit alone. London, England helped get the ball rolling with its London Datastore, allowing independent developers to create real-time applications using government data. In Boston the Massachusetts Department of Transportation opened up its data to developers which spawned MassRoute.

In the United States, Forge.mil is sponsored and used by the Department of Defense to facilitate “collaborative development and use of open source and DoD community source software.” Other governments around the world are following suit. Government use of open source is leading to the opening of public data stores, leading to new open source applications coming from the bottom up.

Mobile adoption of open source and its success will create faster, broader adoption in the Enterprise. Open data is a catalyst that will increase the speed of adoption of open source as well as increase innovation. It’s real change affecting our lives at home, work and play. And it’s just beginning.

Tim Yeaton is CEO of Black Duck Software, Inc., global provider of products and services for automating the management, governance and secure use of open source software.

This article was originally published on the North Bridge Future of Cloud Forum blog.

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