At the very first LinuxWorld conferences I attended, in the mid-90s, anyone who even appeared to be a businessperson was stared at by the free-software masses like some kind of strange animal that had accidentally wandered into the show.
Then, as "real" companies began to exhibit, the show was treated like a validation of Linux and open source. "Look, theres IBM! That must mean something!"
During the last few years, LinuxWorld has become just like any other IT show: It has its share of geeks looking for cool apps and handouts, but its mainly dominated by IT professionals looking for products that can be used effectively in the enterprise.
I did notice one significant change at this years event, held April 3-6 in Boston. It wasnt the makeup of the crowd or the fact that companies such as Dell, CA and Unisys were exhibiting.
No, what I sensed was a change in the perception of open-source companies. In the past, there always seemed to be a hierarchy with open-source companies: There was Red Hat and a handful of other high-profile companies, and then there were the scores of smaller "companies" that were basically just a couple of developers.
But, in meeting after meeting at LinuxWorld, I met with open-source companies large and small—and all of them were offering high-quality enterprise-level products. And, maybe even more importantly, these companies were ready to back those products with support and services that businesses expect.
Alfresco, for example, a small startup run by former Documentum and Interwoven staff, demonstrated for me an open-source ECM (enterprise content management) platform that looks like it could go head-to-head with any commercial enterprise offering.
This is an important step in the growth and acceptance of open-source products in the enterprise. We may even soon come to a time when we dont refer to these organizations as "open-source companies" but simply as "enterprise IT companies."
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.