Experts Recommend Mixing Open-Source and Commercial

The panelists at a developer event sponsored by BEA Systems agree that open-source should be seen as one ingredient in a blend.

BEIJING—At a panel on open source technology, a group of experts on the subject said the greatest prospect for success with open source software involves a strategy of mixing open source with commercial software.

Adam Fitzgerald, director for developer solutions at BEA Systems Inc., said, "You need to start thinking about what an open source solution can do for you and identify best practices and best-of-breed open source technology. This notion of blending open source solutions is what we see customers already using."

Fitzgerald spoke at the panel at the BEAWorld Beijing conference here Thursday.

"Combining the best open source software and the best commercial software will give you the best solution," said Zhongyuan Zheng, vice president for research and development at Red Flag Software Co. Ltd., Chinas premier Linux vendor and maker of Red Flag Linux.

"Sometimes open source software is competitive with commercial software and sometimes not," Zheng said. "Linux is the competition of Windows, but the companion of WebLogic. We worked with BEA on the SPEC benchmarks, and we bundle BEAs JVM [Java Virtual Machine] in our Red Flag Linux distribution."

Patrick Linskey, a new BEA technical strategist who came over with the companys acquisition of SolarMetric, where he was chief technology officer, spoke about the impact of open source technology on small independent companies.

"The big question to a small company going out and competing is how do you want to deliver value to your customers," Linskey said. "We got burned by proprietary products—both open-source proprietary products and commercial proprietary products."

Panelists also addressed the issue of open standards and open source.

"Standards form the foundation for these open source frameworks to actually get going," Fitzgerald said, speaking of open source development frameworks such as Spring and Beehive. "They wouldnt be possible without the J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] specs. Standards are the bedrock for you to start thinking about innovation. Open source solutions are driven by developer need or interest versus having a bunch of vendors trying to move a technology in a certain way."

Eddie ONeil, a BEA developer heading up the companys Beehive effort and also an Apache Software Foundation committee leader, said "people who have problems are going out and finding solutions to those problems."

Meanwhile, Linskey said actively supporting or leading a standards effort can be a big job.

"Theres incredible pressure on a development team at a company that backs a standard to make their technology really good," he said. "Because if you dont provide greater value, nobodys going to use your product," he added.

Franz Aman, vice president of developer relations at BEA, said, "open source is a Darwinistic space."

Moreover, stating plainly what he has seen in his home market, Zheng said, "All customers look for good products with better price/performance, and open source can provide better products in some areas."

However, "Open source has a different development model, but the business model is not all that different," Zheng said. "You need to provide a better product than your competition and your software needs to be more stable and you need to provide better services and technical support."

Zheng noted that Red Flag is the number one Linux developer—with more than 60 percent of the market—in China and number three in the world. "Product, service and channels are the keys to success in this market."

Moreover, Zheng said he believes commercial software and open source software will co-exist "very long into the future, and competition between them will benefit the customer."

Indeed, Zheng said he values competition. "I dont want to replace all the Windows in China; I just want to provide more choice."

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Zheng also addressed the issue of license proliferation. "There are so many open source licenses… We hope all developers of open source software can consider the issue and decrease the number of licenses," he said.

"From the licensing standpoint, we want to make sure the community has an awareness of what the license is, and not a strong-arm tactic," Fitzgerald said.

Speaking on what he views as open sources next frontier, Zheng said, "Linux is mature for the server platform, but my personal feeling is the desktop will be the next platform for Linux.

Meanwhile, ONeil said he sees the service infrastructure around service-related projects to be the next big thing. In addition, ONeil said developer ease-of-use technologies remain hot commodities. "Look at Ruby on Rails," he said referring to the lightweight development framework. "this is a trend that will continue to accelerate.

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