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Open Source Systems Grow/New Operating Systems Launch, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Long-term commercial operating systems such as Windows and UNIX continue to face serious competition from Linux.  The increasingly popular Linux, originally launched by a Finn named Linus Torvalds, is a free and open operating system spreading through corporate data centers like wildfire.

The phrase “open source” is used to denote the fact that the vital programming, or source code, underlying the software is open to all programmers, typically at no cost.  This makes it easy for a programmer to adopt or modify the code for his or her own purposes.  In the most open software projects, each developer shares any changes or improvements with the programming community so that the code continually improves and evolves.  Many companies that were previously contracting with Microsoft or Sun for costly operating software packages have replaced them with far less expensive Linux operating systems.

As an open system, Linux is constantly improved and enhanced by the global community of people who use it.  That is, software developers are free to add improvements to the basic code, and they do so on a regular basis.  The longer the software is in use, the stronger and more bug-free it becomes.  Meanwhile, the use of the software is free of charge to users who want to adopt it.  (A large, publicly held company, Red Hat, profits by providing Linux support and software development.  It claims to serve more than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies.)  Since software spending represents about 20% of the total IT market, this is a truly revolutionary concept that has broad implications for the entire IT industry. 

Early versions of Linux, developed by a group of amateur and professional volunteers, were difficult to manage at best, and little, if any, technical support was available.  Linux got a big boost when Red Hat began selling technical support and documentation services.  This step made corporate users more comfortable in making the switch to Linux, and Red Hat developed a significant revenue stream for itself.  Another boost came with the global tech business slowdown in the early 2000s.  Economic imperatives have forced IT managers to get the most for their technology budgets, and Linux is less expensive to implement.  Another plus for Linux is its use in the Tianhe-2 (MilkyWay-2) supercomputer at the National Super Computer Center in Guangzhou.

One of the biggest open-software successes is Apache, used by about two-thirds of all web sites worldwide.  Apache manages the interaction between a web site and the viewer’s browser.  This software is managed by The Apache Software Foundation ( ).

Another big open source success is MySQL ( ), a sequel server-type database that has been adopted by some of the largest enterprises in the world.  Several thousand companies (including Google, Inc.) pay the MySQL organization a small fee for support and for the right to incorporate MySQL’s code into their own software products.

Sun Microsystems shares much of the technology underlying its Java software designed to run servers.  IBM, Oracle, SAP and Intel are all involved in Linux in one way or another.  IBM is embracing open systems in many ways.  For example, it has engineers working on the open Linux code.  IBM also contributes code to the Apache server software.  These efforts by IBM, Sun and others are part of a growing effort by the legacy software firms to attract and build deep relationships with those coders and IT managers who see open systems as vital assets.  Even Microsoft opened limited portions of code for its immensely popular Office software in 2008.

IBM, Sony and Phillips, three of the world’s largest makers of IT equipment, joined in the creation of the Open Invention Network (OIN, ).  Other founding participants were Red Hat, Inc. and Novell, Inc.  Patents and intellectual property rights for Linux applications are donated on a voluntary basis to the OIN by supporters who are able to do so.  Use of these assets is available, royalty-free, to anyone who agrees to OIN’s regulations.  Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems offers its Java programming language available as free, open source software.

IBM offers free, open source software called IBM Lotus Symphony.  Lotus Symphony competes with Microsoft’s Office programs and its availability is a major step towards corporate customers’ adoption of open source systems.

One of the more interesting open source projects is Firefox, an internet browser that is a direct challenge to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Another popular open system is a framework for web sites called WordPress. 

Microsoft released a new Windows 10 in late 2014, free of charge.  Windows 10 addresses many of the properties that were unpopular in its earlier Windows 8.  This strategy should be reasonably effective in helping Microsoft to hold on to its very dominant share (nearly 88% as of late 2016) of operating systems on the world’s PCs.  This is also a reasonable step in Microsoft’s long-term strategy to shift its revenues towards subscription-based software as a service (SAAS) and cloud services, rather than sales of packaged software.

Google hoped to make a major impact with the release of its Chrome operating system in June 2011 (not to be confused with Google’s Chrome web browser which launched in 2008).  The operating system uses Linux as its core, and offers web browsing at high speeds with good security.  Google is betting on a major shift away from software loaded onto PCs, and a movement towards applications stored online in the cloud. 

Google recently launched an update to its free Android smartphone and tablet operating systems.  Android 5, also called Android Lollipop, was released in early 2015.  Sporting a new design, the system is contextually aware of its surroundings and offers greatly improved voice input.  For example, a user’s voiceprint when recognized by the system automatically unlocks the associated device and any Bluetooth connected devices nearby.  Android Lollipop also seamlessly communicates across devices such as phones, tablets and TVs.  In addition, Google developers have been working on project Volta, the system’s modifications that may extend battery life by as much as 90 minutes.


Plunkett’s Law of Open Systems:

Closed, proprietary systems may succeed initially, due to early developers’ advantage in launching revolutionary technologies (BetaMax, Windows, Macintosh, etc.).  However, when a mass market exists, then open, competitive systems will launch and will evolve to be extremely successful due to collaboration, flexibility, lower costs and potentially broader choices for the end user (Linux, Android, Firefox, etc.).

Source: Plunkett Research, Ltd.



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