SAN FRANCISCO — IT executives speaking here at the Open Source Business Conference this week delivered a message to the open source community: Focus on middleware and applications.
Robert Lefkowitz, chief technical architect at AT&T Wireless
, said the Linux desktop will have limited utility to corporations running custom hardware and vertical applications. IT executives are indifferent to what desktop operating system they use, but the rest of the hardware and software at his company is built to run on the Windows platform.
Lefkowitz came to the conference hoping to convince developers to work on what he needs: billing and CRM applications, business process management and business intelligence apps, and data warehousing software. Unfortunately, these projects are not perceived as cool, he said.
“The ‘community’ is individuals, and if you can’t get individuals interested in a project, it doesn’t get done. So it has to be ‘kewl,'” he said.
“There are lots of opportunities to make a business out of servicing billing operations,” he told the audience, adding he has the authority and corporate okay to test whether a next-generation wireless telephone billing application could be built using the community development model. “If anyone out there is interested in doing the world’s largest, coolest micro-payment system, I’ve got the source code.”
Ted Shelton, CEO of CallTrex, which makes call center software base on Linux and Apache, said that while there might not be a groundswell of developers working on e-business apps, a viable model is for the corporation to spearhead the projects it needs.
“If you only look at open source as a group of people getting together, open source won’t address problems like CRM or ERP,” he said.
However, another barrier to Linux penetration into the enterprise is that it’s not always easy for IT executives to work closely with the open source community. And projects need a strong leader, a benevolent dictator who will manage the project to make sure it stays on track to deliver business value.
That management can be too costly for an enterprise to take on. Scott Dietzen, CTO for BEA Systems
, said using community developers to lower development costs is appealing, but getting a project started takes about 30 percent more resources than handling it in-house.
“In order to bootstrap a project and get it to critical mass in an open source community,” he said, “you have to make the extra investment.”
Open source startups should find a hole and fill it, said Mark Bregman, executive vice president of product development for storage software vendor Veritas
. He told the audience that vendors should develop new technologies for the enterprise that help close the gap between Unix to Linux. Businesses are very comfortable with Unix features like standard enterprise storage management and advanced management features, but they’re not available in the Linux environment.
And they probably shouldn’t wait for big corporations to take the lead. AT&T Wireless’ Lefkowitz pointed out that when open source luminaries send out an e-mail asking for volunteers for a project, they get hundreds of e-mails. “But I don’t know where to send the e-mail.” Moreover, he said, “If nobody else cares, I don’t care that much.”