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i-Technology Viewpoint: Open Wounds – How Free May End Up Being Costly

"I make my living designing software, and I personally don't want to do it for free"

Like many people in the industry, I'm torn over open source software. I'm not opposed to developers creating software and deciding they do it for the love of programming, and have no need for payment - if they want to give their work away, I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to do so, although I think the people who want all software to be free should first get uniform agreement from everyone in the industry to work for nothing before they get on that soapbox. Even though I run a magazine in my spare time, I make my living designing software, and I personally don't want to do it for free.

I'm not opposed to people who want to develop for fun, or for the pure joy of programming. Lots of students in college do this, and many hardcore programmers who don't get enough code during the day seem to grind it out after hours as well.

Eventually though, the economics catch up. Businesses will use whatever they can legally obtain in order to create a competitive advantage, or maintain parity. Even though an application server provides capabilities that would cost millions to develop internally, corporations balk at buying one for tens of thousands of dollars - which is where the open source people come in.

Consortiums such as Apache make it easier for developers who are interested in building a free version of some tool to come together, manage a project, and produce software that is free and useful to the community at large. Linux and Apache Tomcat are probably two of the most useful and successful results of this type of endeavor.

Of course, when you get something for free, it seldom comes with a warranty. This is one of the biggest challenges for open source - the fact that no apparent support structure exists. Corporations that are buying software often look not just at the technical features of a product, but also at the organization's support team and financial outlook. A troubled software company with a good product can often spiral down because of its financial position, even when they have a superior product. Support is crucial to acceptance of software.

Enter the companies that provide support for open source. Some are new, such as Redhat, and some are existing companies like IBM and Novell, all of whom reap the benefit of the adoption of open source by providing a security blanket for when things go wrong. In one of the oddities of open source, the developers who contribute their brilliance get nothing, while companies who package free software up and offer support services make tons of money.

However the biggest challenge to open source remains legal. Intellectual property is a funny thing, and it's hard to separate the TCP/IP stack you wrote at work from the TCP/IP stack you wrote for fun at home. Concepts and ideas comingle and the legal ownership of things can be contested furiously. Also, the risk of being held liable for not purchasing a software license once someone wins a court victory is still a factor that prevents the adoption of Linux and other software in corporations today. It's not a simple world we live in, and free may end up being costly.

Nevertheless, open source software is clearly in use, and it's useful in the corporate world. Many companies have adopted Linux, Apache, MySQL, and other tools that help them reduce their cost of ownership. Things are no different in the world of Web services. Freeware tools abound that make it possible to run a Web services stack without paying any licensing costs. Our focus this issue is on just some of those tools and products that can help you deliver Web services without costing you a fortune - at least until the next lawsuit.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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