RealTime IT News

Open Minds Meet at Freeware Summit (cont.)

What the barons of free software were proponing was using their open source model to make commercial software faster, better and cheaper than any vendor can using a closed model, because proprietary software stagnates between releases.

"The Internet is growing at an incredible speed and the need for reliability and added features is greater than it's ever been," said Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python scripting language.

Many businesses are already making good money off from free software products--O'Reilly estimates his company makes as much as two-thirds of its publishing revenue selling documentation for freeware products like the Perl scripting language, Apache, Sendmail, Unix, and GNU.

And other companies are using the free source code to lower barriers to entry for new businesses to sell service and support, or tools and extensions, for popular free software. Still others make millions just repackaging software that's freely available over the Internet.

Although open source software may have spread like wild fire, it has not evolved into a market in the traditional sense. One big turnoff for large customers is the lack of enterprise-level service and support. Freeware advocates are confident that services will arise in response to customer demand.

"The next step is to combine the best of the open source development model with the kind of service and support a big company has," said John Ousterhout, CEO of Scriptics Corp., in Palo Alto.

Another problem is that in an army of volunteers, everyone wants the fun work, and maintaining enterprise applications like relational databases is not exactly the stuff hacker dreams are made of.

"Finding a bug is one thing. Fixing it is another," van Rossum said.