IBM Exec on Linux Apps: 'I'm Tired of Waiting'

Open-source software may not make major inroads into industry-specific enterprise applications, according to an IBM open-source guru.

The next 10 years will be "do or die" for this type of application, said Bob Sutor, vice president of open source and standards at IBM, in a LinuxWorld keynote address Wednesday. That was one of a series of 10-year predictions he made to mark the tenth anniversary of IBM embracing Linux.

So far, he said, there is little open-source software written for use in specific industries.

"I'm getting tired of waiting," Sutor said. "Either it's going to happen or it's not going to happen."

Many enterprises use general-purpose applications such as Mozilla Firefox, but few have industry-specific Linux applications, Sutor said. The public sector, especially education, offers glimmers of hope with software such as the Sakai collaboration and learning environment, he noted. For other industries, open source may take a long time to gain traction or may never gain it, Sutor said.

"You may believe that there will come a day where all software is free software, or open-source software ... [but] it's not tomorrow, and it's probably not next year, and it's probably not 10 years from now," he said.

One thing that has kept some enterprises from embracing open-source software is the proliferation of different licenses, Sutor said.

"When customers say 'I'm ready to use open source,' [they] don't want to see the license du jour," Sutor said. They won't tolerate a lot of ongoing change in the legal aspects of using a piece of software, he said.

Fortunately, out of approximately 60 open-source licenses approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative), a handful of licenses are used for roughly 90 percent of open-source projects, Sutor said. Among them are Apache, Eclipse, Mozilla and versions of the GPL (General Public License) and Lesser GPL. Over the next 10 years, these will be refined and there will be less pressure to craft different types of licenses, he believes.

Meanwhile, Linux will be used in a wide variety of devices and various Internet-based services, such as cloud computing and SaaS (software as a service) and judged less as an operating system on desktops or even the x86 hardware platform, Sutor predicted.

"Linux may become much more widely used, but you won't know it. ... It's just there," Sutor said.

However, Linux will stay at the top of the heap for open-source platforms, with no new operating systems coming along by surprise to supersede it, Sutor said. He laid this to Linux's proven adaptability to different needs over time.

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