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Keywords: Linux, open source software, enterprise softare policy
Title: Open Source for the Enterprise
Authors: Dan Woods and Gautam Guliani
Verdict: For those managers who want to venture into open source waters this is a good place to start
Developers are, on the whole, very good at sneaking open source software into the enterprise. Whether it's IDEs like Eclipse, build tools like Ant or testing tools like the xUnit family or even entire languages like Perl, Python or PHP, there are plenty of developers who have added open source software to their toolkit. Moving open source to IT infrastructure or onto the desks of end-users is a different kettle of fish entirely. All of a sudden there are support, maintenance and licensing issues that have to be addressed, often by decision-makers who lack the geek-factor that developers have in abundance.
For managers faced with the task of coming up with a corporate policy on open source - and then being faced with a welter of different licenses, competing products and different business models - this book might just be the guidebook to help. It aims to make sense of the different types of products, levels of maturity, support options and licenses that are essential factors in any kind of software policy.
Of course, an open source policy only makes sense in the context of an organisation's existing infrastructure and software acquisition policies. To this end the authors walk through the process of defining requirements based on an organisation's existing skill level and software requirements. Existing skills are important because, as the authors clearly indicate, much open source software requires a higher level of support and customisation than packaged commercial software. However, there are plenty of big players in the open source arena who are now offering support packages that can do much to mitigate this type of concern.
The thorny issue of licensing isn't ignored. The vexed questions of 'viral' clauses in the GPL and GPL-derived licenses are discussed in an even-handed and non-ideological manner. Understanding the implications of different licenses is important to any organisation considering contributing code to a project. There is also coverage of dual licensing, an increasingly common strategy being adopted by some of the more mature open source providers such as MySQL and which may be suited to organisations who want open source software but are unhappy with the GPL.
There are plenty of other guides for the perplexed when it comes to open source software, of course. What makes this one different is that it tries to steer a middle path between the zealots on either side. It does not pretend that open source is the answer to every problem under the sun. In particular it clarifies the difference between price and cost, because open source software is free doesn't mean that there aren't costs involved. Just as importantly it doesn't damn open source software as some kind of anarchist plot to undermine capitalism.
For developers already convinced of the virtues of open source but struggling to convince sceptical bosses there are good arguments to be found here. From discussion of return on investment (ROI), to support contracts, to case studies and the implications of the SCO versus IBM case, the book provides useful material that can be used to supplement purely technical arguments.
For those managers who want to venture into open source waters this is a good place to start.