How much open source software are businesses really using?

Open source vendor OpenLogic is today kicking off a new industry initiative meant to help both users and software companies find out precisely what kinds of open source software is being used -- and who is using it.

Software developers are downloading lots of open source software from the Internet, and much of that is free of charge -- but what, exactly, are they downloading? OpenLogic, Inc. is today rolling out a new industry initiative called the Open Source Census which is aimed at answering that question for developers, their employers, and software vendors.

Despite efforts to clear up the confusion, many enterprises and other businesses today aren't at all clear about which open source software packages are actually installed on their systems, said Kim Weins, OpenLogic's senior vice president, Products and Marketing, in an interview with BetaNews.

For instance, one of OpenLogic's customers, a large manufacturing firm, thought it was operating only about 20 or 30 open source software packages. But upon running OpenLogic's Discovery software, released last June, the manufacturer actually detected around 220 of these open source packages. "That's an order of magnitude of difference," pointed out Weins.

Unlike commercial software packages from Microsoft and many other vendors, open source software provides an open software code base with reusable software components. Commonly, software developers from businesses and voluntary organizations work together in collaborating on the software -- which is often Linux-based -- in open source development communities.

Open source software is becoming increasing popular among a number of end users, but particularly in enterprises, where developers in industries such as financial services, telecommunications, and manufacturing often tweak downloaded open source code to create custom applications designed to meet specific business goals or to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

In the first phase of the Open Source Census initiative, OpenLogic is today launching OSS (Open Source Software) Discovery, a new version of the software tool first issued in June. Like its predecessor, OSS Discovery is a free download, according to Weins.

Aside from adding an open source license, the new OSS edition provides an open source plug-in architecture with built-in "fingerprint" rules for identifying open source software packages.

In its second phase, set to start in the first quarter of next year, the Open Source Census will begin to collect data from enterprise developers who want to take part in the project. OpenLogic also expects to release a list of other open source software vendors that will serve as partners in the initiative,

To motivate information sharing, the Open Source Census will offer access to the collected data at various layers of participation or contribution, according to Weins.

"You can look at this as sort of like a salary survey. At the first level, you can contribute information anonymously, and you'll also be able to see 'counts' of the software packages) that others have found," she illustrated.

At a second layer, users who opt in to identify themselves will be able to view "all of their own data summarized -- and they'll also get to see their data compared with that of others -- how open source software is being used in the total ecosphere, in their own industry, and among their competitors," Weins said.

Data to be collected on a voluntary basis includes the name of the company, size of the company, and geographic information, for example.

"But the third layer (of access) is for (open source vendor) partners," according to the senior VP. Open source vendors and large ISVs (independent software vendors) joining in will have "extra" access to the Open Source Census database repository for analyzing and "slicing and dicing" information.

Although participation in the census project will be free to developers and enterprises, software vendor partners will be charged a contribution combining "cash and a 'in kind' contribution such as hardware or software," she said.

The money contributed by software vendor partners will be used to support operations of the database repository, according to Weins.

Weins said that OpenLogic expects to benefit from the initiative mostly by exposing developers and enterprises to its own library of about 300 open source packages, some of which are used for software "governance," or policy compliance.

Although many enterprises are already trying to govern the use of open source software by setting up lists of "approved" software, these attempts don't always work, Weins contended.

For instance, another customer who used OpenLogic's original Discovery package -- a large telecommunications firm -- went into the exploration process with several hundred open source software packages on its "approved list."

"They found 250 different open source packages -- but only one-third of those had been approved," she explained.

A business might deal with results such as these by either adding the newly discovered software packages to its "approved" list or by stopping developers from using those packages, according to Weins.

On the other hand, she suggested, software developers might leverage the results to find other developers who are working on similar open source projects for purposes of collaborative development.

Developers can use the tool starting today under the GNU Affero General Public License (GPL) version 9.

Although OpenLogic doesn't expect to release the names of its vendor partners in the census project until January, a press release today announcing the Open Source Census contains statements of support from officials of several open source software vendors, including Andrew Aitken, CEO of the Olliance Group; Bill Portelli, CEO of CollabNet, and Jim Jagielski, CTO of Covalent Technologies and chairman of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF)'s Board of Directors.

In addition, CollabNet -- the company which is also behind other popular open source community sites such as Sun Microsystems's java.net -- is hosting the new free download site for OSS Discovery here.

Also today, OpenLogic is sending out an invitation to open source vendors and large ISVs to participate, on its new Open Source Census Project Web site.

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