Jason Matthews has over 20 years of expertise in all aspects of business management and technical application of enterprise information technology solutions. Currently, he serves as Chairman/EVP of 10x Software, an enterprise technology solutions company. Previously he was President/CEO of Genesis Development Corporation, a company he founded in 1987 targeting the professional services sector of the then nascent enterprise infrastructure software market. Mr. Matthews successfully led that business until 2000 when it was sold to IONA Technologies, PLC, a leading international software company.
Mr. Matthews holds dual degrees in Computer Science and Business Administration from the University of Maryland. He is also the co-author of the groundbreaking book, The Object Technology Revolution, author of numerous articles and whitepapers covering corporate adoption and migrations of advanced technologies for the enterprise.
Linux, Open Source, and the Courts An interview with Jason Matthews
Some in the IT world are keeping an eye on the legal battle involving SCO and IBM. SCO, a Unix vendor, is seeking at least $1 billion from IBM, alleging that IBM illegally put some of SCO's protected Unix code into Linux development. In August, IBM filed a countersuit, arguing that SCO is in violation of the license that governs contributions to Linux and has infringed upon IBM patents. Another Linux vendor, Red Hat, is also taking legal action against SCO. In this Update, Cutter Consortium Senior Consultant Jason Matthews answers a few questions IT executives might have regarding this controversy.
Q: In light of the lawsuit that SCO has filed against IBM, and the ensuing countersuits from IBM and Red Hat, what effect does all this have on the adoption of open source operating systems, especially Linux, by corporate technology users?
JM: About as much as it slowed the purchase of Microsoft Windows during Microsoft's most recent legal tussle -- minimal. In fact, SCO probably damaged themselves more than they would like to admit through their own actions. It is one thing to sue IBM, but they also sent a "threatening" letter to a huge number of end-user companies, a rather odd form of image marketing, in my opinion. I believe that end-user companies are watching the process unfold, many with wry amusement playing on their lips, but are proceeding apace with their individual plans to fold open source into their corporate IT strategies.
So, regardless of the threats, claims, and counterclaims, I have not heard of a single enterprise project relying on open source being put on hold or slowed down. In fact, if my customers are an indicator, open source adoption is growing in leaps and bounds across the whole spectrum of the enterprise, because it involves more than just the operating system. World-class Web servers, application servers, databases, object request brokers, and other significant building blocks of enterprise solutions are all available through the open source community. Savvy executives are not going to wait to start saving money while SCO, IBM, and others wrestle around in the courtroom.
Q: Up until this point, has open source been picking up momentum in corporate IT? If so, by how much?
JM: The adoption of open source appears to be following the traditional technology adoption curve. The SCO lawsuit is the "chasm," and those crossing the chasm are destined to realize the value propositions offered through open source. The lawsuit seems to have galvanized end-user interest in open source in everything from the operating system to application servers and databases. Momentum is increasing almost daily and is powerfully driven when you consider both sides of the equation -- supply and demand.
On the supply side, consider the major software vendors, including Novell, IBM, Sun, HP, and others too numerous to mention, who are developing robust open source support strategies. Vendors do not flock to gain control of a market motion because they think it is short-lived. Open source is a fundamental shift in the software market, and the vendors who recognize this are moving rapidly to capitalize upon it.
On the demand side, consider the inclusion of open source as a key IT strategy for organizations such as Hess, KB Toys, US Bancorp, Shell, Mobil Travel Guide, the city of Munich, and others, also too numerous to list. These are not technology-centric organizations wooed by the sight of the latest cool technology. These are mainstream organizations actively pursuing a path to reduce their application total cost of ownership by removing unnecessary, and often overly costly, proprietary software licenses.
Q: Could a long, drawn-out court battle slow or harm the adoption of open source?
JM: A protracted court battle between SCO and IBM will have minimal impact on the general adoption of open source as an alternative to proprietary source products. Open source is more -- much more -- than Linux itself. While Linux is undoubtedly the "pointy end of the stick" of open source solutions, it overshadows other open source participants, mostly because it was timely enough to be a Wall Street "darling." MySQL, for example, offers a very cheap and powerful enterprise-capable database that can be used to readily replace other SQL databases such as Oracle. JBoss and ObjectWeb provide full J2EE-compliant application servers, for free, that are easily capable of replacing expensive proprietary application servers from BEA Systems or IBM. Apache's open source Web server products silently power more than 60% of Web sites in service today! These are only some of the more obvious examples of open source solutions available today that are totally unencumbered by any fate that may befall Linux.
Q: Who stands to gain most in a long court battle, and why?
JM: As with most lawsuits of this nature, that are -- in my opinion -- specious, those who will gain the most from the SCO suit will be the legal firms representing SCO.
That said, a more unlikely winner from the suit are the very customers SCO "threatened" in its now infamous letter. The sheer level of press coverage of the lawsuit has brought open source into mainstream conversations. Typical press coverage goes on to explain key open source value propositions and cites deployments where organizations have saved millions of dollars. This is a marketing dream come true for the open source community! So the true winners are the end users themselves, by becoming more informed on the potential of open source.
Other times, I wonder if this was the intent of SCO all along. I question if the motive behind the suit is a complex scheme designed to generate free coverage for open source, bringing it full force into the minds of CIOs. Then, in a startling move, SCO moves to assume superiority in the marketplace by purchasing the leading open source companies and converting them to proprietary cash-generating machines. At this point, I usually remember that Trotsky is long gone.
Q: Given what's going on in the courts, what's your advice for corporate users who want to adopt open source or are exploring it?
JM: Do not wait for the end of the game to engage open source as a key component of your IT strategy. Open source is a juggernaut that has and will continue to forever change the face of the commercial software marketplace. IT executives ignoring it or procrastinating in its adoption will be overrun by their competition, the industry at large, and, most importantly, their stakeholders.
However, to achieve the complete benefits of any new technology change requires consideration, planning, and managed execution. Open source should not be viewed as a "download it and run with it" superficial technology solution. It is more powerful and more complex than that; something more akin to the technology transition needed for distributed computing or component-based development.
CIOs need to make their own decisions, but I recommend gaining additional insight and information from various news sources and qualified industry analysts. Whenever possible, I recommend partnering with an organization that has "been there, done that" with these types of technology transitions. Partnering with those experienced in understanding, planning, and executing successful technology transitions will significantly reduce risk and accelerate the realization of benefits. I believe the most practical approach to open source is to develop a comprehensive technology strategy providing a phased transition process to understand, adopt, and benefit from open source.
-- Cutter Consortium
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