TECH TALK: Disruptive Technologies: Open Source and Linux (Part II)

The Internet has played an enabling role in the growing popularity of Open Source. It has helped software developers come together from across the world. Writes Siegele (Economist, April 12, 2001):

[The Internet] allows engineers in different corners of the world to collaborate at almost zero cost. Since communication is so easy, there is no need for official leaders or a big bureaucracy to keep things running. And the decision-making process is more transparent: discussions and documents, for instance, are easy to get at and to search. What counts is the quality of the argument, not the power of special interests.

Most open-source projects are organised in much the same way. Their members are motivated mainly by fame rather than fortune; it is considered a coup to write a “patch” that passes the peer review of fellow developers and gets incorporated in the next release. And most open-source projects are governed by a “benevolent dictator”, an individual with exceptional programming, organisational and communications skills-such as Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.

Open Source has had many successes, even apart from Linux. Apache is the most popular web server, while Sendmail is used to route nearly 75% of the mails on the Internet. Sites like Freshmeat and Sourceforge offer a huge amount of open source software. If one is willing to spend some effort, then building blocks are available for developers in almost every possible segment.

The next battleground for Open Source is Web Services. Writes Ganesh Prasad in a recent article entitled, “Will Open Source Lose the Battle for the Web?”

“Web services” is a simple concept, and its basic technological underpinnings aren’t rocket science, either. This is all about applications advertising their own capabilities, searching for other applications on the web and invoking their services without prior design or negotiation. Reduced to the technological basics, it’s just XML over HTTP. And the relevant specifications aren’t closed either. They’re Internet standards. This is classic Open Source territory, an invitation to commoditisation if there ever was one. So why hasn’t Open Source produced a web services platform? Why are we still tweaking yesterday’s product (Apache) to make it a wee bit better? This is the syndrome of engineers putting features into a product with no input from marketing. It’s a great technical product, but the market doesn’t want this anymore.What we’re witnessing is Microsoft doing an end-run around Open Source in the web applications space [with its .NET platform]

Far from being vapourware, [there] is a real Enterprise architecture, a set of well-designed interfaces, and plenty of stable implementations to actually provide a viable alternative to .NET. That’s the Java 2 Enterprise Edition, or J2EE. The trouble is, the way the big J2EE vendors are repeating history is textbook Santayana. Their greed for high margins is causing them to abdicate the low end of web services to Microsoft and .NET. Big mistake. We remember how high-margin Unix workstations ultimately fared against “low-end” PCs.In a few years from now, it will either be a Java-Linux world, or a .NET world. The choice is ours.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.