The Future of Open-Source: 2009's Top Predictions!


As we get ready to celebrate the end of 2008 and start of 2009, it's important to put down the champagne glasses for a moment and consider all of the big open-source stories that have come across over the past year.  There have been a lot.  In fact, we've even gone and chronicled some of the bigger stories for you already.  If you haven't checked it out yet, do so.  Like watching The Empire Strikes Back before A New Hope, you'll be lost if you read on much further.  That's because we're now taking a look at what's in store for the open-source world in 2009.

We'll get to the specific predictions in a big, but here's the big picture: the open-source software world is on the up, up, up.  We called this out in a news article awhile ago once the economy started taking a dive.  Guess what?  The economy's still taking a dive, and companies long and far are taking an increased interest in the open-source community.  That's because open-source solutions can help them generate cost savings over expensive, proprietary software without a loss of business quality or functionality. And that translates into increased opportunities for open-source developers--everybody wins!  Unless you're Microsoft and think the entire affair is rubbish .  But enough of that...  onto the predictions!

Open-Source Turns From Services to Add-ons

I caught this blog post by Cnet's Dave Rosenberg just the other day, and I think he hits the nail right on the head.  The changing economy has added a greater degree of difficulty to the typical open-source business model.  In this, companies package services and subscriptions alongside open-source software. Licensing prevents them from outright charging for the latter, so this is how they use "free" software to make a buck.  However, the model is starting to change. CEOs and CTOs are slightly more loathe to pay for "services," instead preferring some kind of tangible value addition to the product: Proprietary features that run overtop open-source models.

More interesting still, companies would much prefer to pay someone else to develop add-ons than contribute to the open-source community with their own products.

More Exploitation of the Free

Startups, by their very nature, need to get their platforms built on the cheap.  But beyond that, they need a means for accelerating and growing to super-huge levels if their gimmick manages to catch.  it's no small wonder that they turn to open-source solutions as the lynchpins of their businesses.  Expect this to continue well into 2009, but expect it to cross-over into mainstream companies as well.  Gartner noted that last year's open-source database management system growth exceeded both its previous year's numbers and the growth rate of the database management system market as a whole.  In fact, open source database management system revenues are expected to exceed $1 billion by 2013.  It's just one example of how open-source will continue its push into all facets of IT management--especially while the economy is hurting.

Linux Pushes into the Mainstream

As open-source takes more traction in the enterprise, so will Linux gain a greater foothold in consumer markets. You've already seen this growth happen to netbooks.  Expect Linux to gain further traction in the inexpensive netbook market while it simultaneously surges into the mobile space.  After all, consumers want their products at the lowest price points they can find.  If an open-source solution works just as well as a Microsoft proprietary product (Android, anybody?), yet costs far less, it makes sense that a manufacturer would consider the alternative.

"Lower cost, faster time to market, higher profit margins, better branding -- these are all things that are in favor of Linux and not in favor of Windows," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, in an interview with

That said, it's going to require traditional software developers--gaming companies included--to take a long, hard look at Linux.  For without proper software support, don't expect this open-source operating system to make much headway into mainstream notebooks. There's just too high of a hurdle for an average consumer to overcome, especially if a person wants to do more with a portable notebook than surf the internet or write documents.

Open-Source Soars Through The Cloud

What's The Cloud?  It's more than an arbitrary concept, less than a tangible product.  Cloud computing is the nebulous way by which users can access data stored "on the Internet" versus, say, a traditional desktop machine.  For a case-in-point, consider Flickr.  Instead of shuffling through the pictures you've taken on your own machine, you upload them to the Cloud platform.  You then access these files from anywhere you want, and give any number of users the same ability to view your information. Have you uploaded your photos to a single Web host?  No.  You've uploaded them to Flickr's Cloud, spread across however many servers and architectures that all coalesce into a single point: Your user page.

So how does open source fit in?  For a business to turn to Cloud as a means for extending its platforms on an inexpensive and scalable architecture, it has to give up a few things.  Privacy, data security, reliability--once you turn over your operations to a Cloud provider, you lose the ability to control your data as if it was sitting on your own servers.  For some businesses, that's a concern.  For others, it's a legal liability that prevents the business from using Cloud platforms at all.  The solution?  Open-source software that a business can use to create its own Cloud platforms. These can either exist as independent entities or function alongside larger ventures like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud.

With the Cloud market poised to grow to more than $95 billion over the next five years, representing 12 percent of all total software deployment, it's impossible to think that an open-source solution wouldn't start building the grassroots.

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