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Vendors Debunk Open Code Mystique

SAN FRANCISCO -- If enterprise has any misgivings on the marketability of open source , the major IT vendors are certainly providing testimonials to its value this week.

Companies like IBM , HP and Novell , which have invested in projects such as the Apache Web server, FreeBSD, GNOME, GNU, KDE and of course Linux, say that open source is not only good for their long-term business models but also for their existing products. Novell vice chairman Chris Stone said those who fear the rise of open source are blind to its benefits.

"There is a misconception that open source is a haven for purple-Mohawked hackers who write sub-standard code. That is not true," Stone said to attendees at this week's Open Source Business Conference 2004 here.

"According to our inquiries, 60 percent of the developer community is working on open source projects -- sometimes on their time, sometimes on your time -- and that is good."

Stone said Novell is taking open source so serious that it has $260 million bet in the form of SUSE Linux and Ximian acquisitions, but added that the projects should either serve as a "compliment or substitute" to proprietary platforms.

"Apache is a compliment to Web services. Linux is a compliment to hardware, hence the reason IBM and HP are pouring millions of dollars in to it," Stone said. "Microsoft has done a phenomenal job on creating compliments and the open source community can learn from this. Every application that is written to Windows makes Windows more attractive."

IBM vice president Scott Handy mirrored Stone's comments reiterating IBM's mantra that "Linux will do for applications what the Internet did for networks." The Armonk, N.Y.-based company's open source projects focus primarily on Linux, Apache, the Eclipse developer's tool kit, and the Globus Project, an open grid services architecture.

"To make money on it requires the integration of open source and open standards into the ecosystem of supplying solutions to customers," Handy said. "Vendors needed to believe that there is a business model."

Meantime, HP is marking its own open-source progress. The company Tuesday inked a deal to pre-install copies of Turbolinux operating system in its products in Japan, China, Korea, and nine other countries in the region.

However the main concerns of businesses seems embedded in intellectual property concerns. Both IBM and Novell are embroiled in legal disputes with SCO Group , which is seeking licensing fees from Linux end-users including Daimler-Chrysler and online automotive parts distributor Autozone as part of its claims of copyright to part of the Unix code. It's important to note that SCO hasn't yet won any cases in court that clearly give it the right to extract fees from Linux users. Still, the need for protection is clear. Linux is the fastest-growing operating system worldwide; but lawsuits like SCO's threaten its viability. And what has happened to Linux could easily spill over to other open source projects.

"We still own Unix. We believe Unix is not in Linux and that Linux is a free and open distribution and should be and always will be... sorry, Darl," Stone said, referring to Darl McBride, the chief executive of SCO Group, which is locked in litigation with Novell over copyright claims to Unix. "Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, and you didn't invent Linux or intellectual property law."

Some open source companies are taking a multi-pronged approach. MySQL, Sleepycat Software and Trolltech Tuesday announced successes with a dual-license business model. The idea is to combine the software quality and distribution benefits of an open source model with the software licensing revenue model of a traditional commercial software vendor.

Stone and Handy both pointed out that customers are certainly tiring of a "one-size-fits-all approach to software.

"People say open source is the right way to develop. There is no right or wrong way. Open source is a different way," Stone said. "It is the customer devotion that will prove its most valuable contribution of the way to develop software."