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IDC: Patents Inhibit Open Source Adoption

Apparently patents do matter when it comes to open source software adoption.

In a teleconference preview ahead of next week's LinuxWorld conference, Matthew Lawton, director of IDC's Worldwide Software Business Strategies Group, revealed the results of a non-public survey of IT end users about their attitudes toward software in general and open source in particular.

"The potential for copyright and patent infringement is the No. 1 inhibitor right now for organizations in adopting more open source software in their organization," Lawton said in the afternoon conference call. "Close behind that is the availability of support."

Microsoft has alleged that open source software infringes on 235 patents. Microsoft has yet to name these patents or bring specific patent infringement legal action against any open source vendor, though it has made deals with Novell, Xandros, Linspire and others for patent protection.

Despite patent infringement as inhibitor, Lawton was quick to note that there are many drivers to open source.

"Those two inhibitors did not rank as high on the scale as the initial cost, total cost of ownership and product functionality ranked as drivers," Lawton said.

On an overall software basis, the IDC study found that end users are most interested in product functionality, scalability and reliability. End users were less interested in having access to source code and the ability to modify and redistribute source code.

"The key take away is that end users care about what software does and how well it does it, not how it's developed or distributed," Lawson said.

The study found that end users are interested in evaluating open source in part due to the perception that it's cheaper in terms of initial cost and total cost of ownership. End users are also actively looking for open source alternatives to proprietary options, which Lawton said illustrates an active interest in open source software.

"Fifty percent of end users had an objective in their organization around the use of open source software, and they had budget in 2007 for the use of open source software," Lawton said. "For me that's a high percentage, and it indicates that, while software criteria hasn't changed, they are still interested in evaluating open source software."

Where is all this open source software headed? According to Lawton in the near term the same place it's traditionally gone: infrastructure software like Linux and databases like MySQL. It's a scenario that is likely to stay the same for some time.

"Five years from now infrastructure software will still represent the majority of open source software that is adopted, but we think the profile will go down in favor of development, reporting tools and application software," Lawton said. "That will take a number of years to happen, though."

Ultimately for end users, said Lawton, software is software and that functionality is key.

"Having said that, to the extent that open source software saves end users money, they're all ears and their adoption and deployment behavior suggest that they believe that they can save money with open source software."

Lawton noted that the outlook for continued adoption is very strong.

"Adoption is most prevalent in lower levels of the software stack but we will have this progression upwards in the next four or five years."