Admit it. When you read that headline – “Gartner: 85 percent of enterprises using open source” – you assumed that was a good thing, right? Who’s afraid of enterprises saving a lot of money and getting much more flexible IT for their IT budgets?
Gartner, apparently. According to Gartner, that widespread adoption is cause for alarm, as Glyn Moody rightly notes (and pillories). Somehow, Gartner assumes that if 85 percent are using open source and 69 percent don’t have a formal open-source management team, the world is going to end.
As Moody notes, however, IT organizations have virtually nothing to worry about when adopting open source:
“About a dozen times a year,” [Software Freedom Law Center general counsel Eben] Moglen says, “somebody does something [that] violates the GPL. Most of the time, they’re doing so inadvertently, they haven’t thought through what the requirements are. And I call them up and I say, ‘Look, you’re violating the GPL. What you need to do is this. Would you help us?'” The answer is invariably yes, he says.
So the reality of the situation is that the worst you are likely to get is quick phone call from Moglen….Here’s the truth, then: there are no “huge potential liabilities” involved with free software. It’s very hard to infringe, and very easy to sort things out.
I think it’s more likely that Gartner’s biggest concern is that open-source software firms (and communities) pay it little money for its research. The biggest danger from open source may actually be to Gartner’s P&L statement, not to the enterprises that adopt open-source software.
After all, as IT Pro reports, the Gartner study also indicates that open-source software “is being used for mission critical processes as often as it is for less business-necessary functions.” In other words, more of the world relies on software that brings Gartner roughly $0.00 in analyst fees.
I spent last week meeting with customers, including a visit to a Fortune 100 company to advise its legal and procurement teams on open-source software. We talked about its policies for adopting open-source software, as well as contributing to open-source projects. We struggled to find reasons for it to be worried about its increasing adoption of open-source software, but largely failed.
No, I’m not suggesting that enterprises should adopt open source without formal policies, just as I don’t think they should be adopting proprietary software without formal policies. But let’s not exaggerate the ‘risk’ of open-source software: it is no more worrisome (and usually much less so) than proprietary software. Gartner analysts are smart and know this. I’m not sure why they continue to accentuate the negative in open-source adoption, other than the fact that most of the firm’s revenue comes from proprietary-software vendors who have much to lose from open-source software adoption.