PHOENIX—The focus on return on investment as an indicator of IT value is actually bogus and is increasingly not being seen as the best way to measure technology decisions, Stephen Walli, a former employee of Microsoft and Optaros, said at the Gartner Open Source Summit here September 28.
In an address entitled "Enterprise Open Source: Delivering Value Versus Cutting Costs," Walli said that rethinking IT strategy with open-source software enables the IT organization to get back to supporting the business rather than focusing on simple cost management.
Walli worked at Microsoft for five years, first as its Unix go-to person and then, later, was tasked by Jim Allchin [who is currently co-president of Microsofts platforms and services division] to examine exactly what open source was and what it meant for their business.
"I was not tasked to try and kick the legs out from open source," he quipped.
While it is often said that open software is free like a puppy, which can be acquired for free but then is an ongoing cost, Walli said that applied to all software, not just open source.
Good software is also designed by good software developers, regardless of the licensing strategy, he said, adding that FOSS (free and open-source software) projects start when a designer writes software and was willing to share that under a FOSS license.
"FOSS projects are not products; they are interesting buckets of technology. But, yes, some of these projects become products that are packaged, tested, documented, supported and maintained for customers," he said.
Companies build products as part of their value proposition to customers, he said, noting that no one is working for free in a real economic sense. But developers and contributors to those open projects get back more than they give, Walli said, pointing out that "if you want influence you have to participate and contribute."
Good FOSS projects are the ultimate reuse strategy, and great engineering practice is to design to the scarcest resource—time, he said, adding that being able to rapidly assemble custom solutions is a real advantage.
The joy of using open-source software is that its free, as there is no licensing cost, and the code can be changed. This allows amazing prototypes and development to be done at no cost, Walli said.
"But, of course, at some point you are actually going to want to buy some software and open-source software is no different here. But open-source vendors have a profitable business based on different margins. While you may not buy the software, you do buy the product," he said.
The most compelling and competitive aspect of open software is that users could buy competitive support and maintenance with their commercial open source product, he said.
Turning to the controversial issue of licensing, Walli waded in deeply, saying that there is nothing inherently different about FOSS licensing from other software licensing, as it all depends heavily on copyright laws.
"Dual licensing is an attribute of IP law; you can license your property to as many people as many times as many ways as you choose. Collected works also have licenses, but its all just software licensing —there is nothing particular—or peculiar—to open source here," Walli said.
Walli ended his session by saying that open source is really all just software, just economics and just business.
"But the open-source collaborative development processes are proving to be the best reuse strategy for customers and vendors alike."