Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Part 2 - What is Proprietary?

So does open-source help with this proprietary question? A common misconception is to lump open standards in with open-source software. They are not one in the same. Open standards is just a common way of doing something that is not controlled by one corporation/vendor and not really specific to a platform or a particular technology. The set of standards behind web services is a good example of this. Open-source provides the user with the source code to a particular application or OS along with a license of some description to use it, modify it, and distribute it. There are multiple types of open-source licenses and results do vary.

So does open-source protect a company from vendor lock-in? I would argue that it really does not completely. The ability to modify the source code or take over the source code is a big step for most companies. After all, if that ability was well established in house, the company probably would have written the software themselves in the first place. In reality the company is probably reliant on a particular distribution agent for the software they use, particularly when it comes to support. Let's look at an example.

Suppose I am a large Red Hat enterprise customer(Red Hat has a very good distribution by the way). Let's say that Red Hat decides it is not charging enough for support and they would like to add a few of their own things into the actual Linux distribution. I'm not happy with Red Hat anymore, their direction and mine are not aligning. I decide to switch my support contract to SuSE(SuSE also has a good distribution of Linux). SuSE informs my company that they do not support my Red Hat distribution but would be happy to support(and sell) a new SuSE distribution at our site. Well now I have a migration project, a big one at that. In turns out that Red Hat already has some stuff in their distribution that is unique to them as does SuSE.

So what does the example mean? It is simple, open-source means the source is open and that is all. It does not mean vendor lock-in cannot occur. Most companies rely on and pay for support for enterprise class software. Assuming that because the source is open, switching from one vendor's version to another will be easy would be a mistake. So how do I avoid or minimize vendor lock-in? Coming up in Part 3.

1 comment:

christopher baus said...

Interesting point. Although both Linux companies would support Apache, which puts you in a better position than say if you didn't want to deal with Microsoft anymore and you were an IIS user.

An FOSS vendor could try to lock you in, but the lock-in wouldn't be as strong as with closed source.