There’s a war raging in the media and in certain quarters of the open source community right now about whether or not open source and closed source applications should interoperate, or form part of a combined solution. The debate was initiated by Anthony Gold, who was recently appointed Chairman of the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) and who is also vice president and general manager of open source business at Unisys. In an interview with The Register Anthony declared that in the coming years the OSA will focus on interoperability between open source and closed source applications. This could be a dramatic departure from the original mission of the Open Solutions Alliance and could result in the OSA becoming irrelevant.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to interoperability between closed and open source software, but what concerns me is the examples that are listed in the interview i.e. Oracle, Microsoft and IBM. These three companies have vast product portfolios which include many infrastructure components and since the interview doesn’t reference specific applications I assume that the plans include databases. If Anthony had included business application providers like SAP and salesforce.com in his list of closed source application vendors then I’d be 100% behind his goal. Providing an open source platform to support these business applications at a fraction of the cost of the closed source alternatives would be a laudable goal for the OSA.
It’s almost impossible to deliver a cross-platform open source product which doesn’t by necessity interoperate with closed source technologies. Actian, like many other open source providers, notes that Microsoft Windows is the most popular platform for product downloads. Typically the Windows to Linux ratio is about 2:1. So in many cases a closed source product is the foundation for the technology stack. Some blame this statistic on the failure to deliver a usable Linux desktop, others point to an unwillingness in many IT departments to support Linux desktops. I’ve witnessed the latter firsthand in a couple of places that I’ve been employed, so unless you’re willing to self-support its sometimes easier to go with the corporate standard. At Actian the requirement to provide interoperability with a closed source operating system is not limited to Windows we also support Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, VMS, and a host of others.
Actian has a significant portfolio of partners some of whom deliver open source solutions, and many who include our technologies in proprietary solutions. We’re happy to work with both, but from an engineering perspective it’s a lot easier to work with partners who have open source products. Having access to the source code allows us to step through the code to get to the root of a problem, and in many cases we can provide the fix to our partner for incorporation in their next product release. Working without access to the partner’s source code is a lot more difficult and is akin to trying to make your way from A to B without the benefit of a map.
I suspect that in the coming months we’ll see more ISVs wake up to the economics of open source, and we’ll be happy to work with them regardless of whether they provide access to their source code or not.