Software Pluralism

Software Pluralism

Market Segments


This article discusses the division of the open source market into various segments, including hardware platform and devices, platforms, server systems, middleware, and client components.

Market Segments

From hardware on up to the software stack, the open source market may be divided into the following segments:

1. Hardware Platform and Devices

This category includes Intel-based hardware and other physical devices such as peripherals and network components that accommodate execution and communication of Linux-based systems.

An incidental innovation, as claimed by Linus Torvalds himself, is that Linux benefited from Intel economics of scale from the day Linus released the original source code. In turn, the popularity and lower costs of Linux-based systems help sell more commodity hardware. In addition, grid-computing technologies in open source implementations make low-cost Intel-based processors gain the strength and scale to march into the IT infrastructure market that was originally dominated by mainframe hardware. With continued improvement in price/performance from commodity Intel CPUs, a combination of Intel hardware and Linux-based systems has great potential in cost savings.

2. Platforms

The platform segment generally refers to the core operating systems on which other open source software runs, including Linux, FreeBSD, Globus/OGSA, etc. Linux distributors package operating system components and provide services (training, support, documentation, etc.) to Linux users. The two dominants in the segment are Red Hat Inc. (Red Hat) and Novell Inc. (SuSE).

With the mature and robust Linux operating system, it is no surprise that more and more organizations are adopting Linux in IT strategy and computing environment. According to a Forrester survey of 140 North American companies in 2004, around 60% of surveyed companies show a positive attitude on the adoption of the Linux platform. A commonly cited example is Google, which utilizes more than 100,000 Linux-powered computers to handle millions of searches per day.

The popularity of the Linux operating system is not limited to a single country. Governments around the world encourage the adoption of the freely available operating system to cut government IT spending. The governments of Brazil, China, India, Korea, Japan, Europe, Australia, and the United States have seriously considered open source software as an attractive and economic alternative to proprietary software and have taken initiatives around open source software. Even the United Nations has adopted open source options. To provide but one example of governmental use, the South Korea government has approved a program that targets deployment of the Linux operating system to handle student data in the nation's schools by 2006. The South Korea government also plans to use Linux on 30% of all servers in central and local government by 2007.

3. Server Systems

Server systems are open source software that power and support servers. Apache Web server, Tomcat, MySQL, JBoss, Samba are in this category.

The most prominent server system is the Apache Web server. According to Netcraft, the Apache Web server runs on 68% of Web servers worldwide in 2004, leaving the second place, Microsoft Web server, far behind. In the application server space, Tomcat, JBoss Application Server, Jonas and Geronimo compete with commercial application servers from IBM (WebSphere), BEA Systems (WebLogic), and the like. Samba, a file sharing server, enables applications running on Unix/Linux platforms to access files and printers through Microsoft's network protocols seamlessly. Among database servers, MySQL stands out with more than five millions installations around the world. Thousands of organizations use MySQL database to handle business transactions, even mission-critical applications. Other well-known open source database servers include PostgreSQL, MaxDB and Berkeley DB.

There are many open source products for FTP servers, fax servers, mail servers, portal servers, etc. that provide services to applications running on open source platforms.

4. Middleware

The software suite enables communication flows between clients and servers. In this market segment, standardization and cooperation are critical to ensure interoperability among various platforms and systems. The most prominent components in this category are the Internet and its protocols, including the fundamental TCP/IP. Collaboration among university researchers and researchers from the US government originally laid the foundation of open source activities in this segment. Other important components include OpenSSL, which is the cryptography library for other open source projects, OpenSSH, which enables secure remote administration of Unix and Windows systems, and OpenLDAP, which implements reliable directory services in open source systems.

Queuing technologies such as webservices enable applications to interoperate across different systems and platforms. Open source frameworks such as the DotGNU project and the Apache Software Foundation's Web Services Project @ Apache compete with Microsoft's .NET framework in this area, and promote the ideology of "open computing" – the free exchange of digital information among different systems.

Commercial software firms participate actively in the middleware segment. Take JBoss, Inc., the professional open source company. With their JBoss Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS) product lines, and their professional support, consulting, training and certificate program, JBoss brings a comprehensive open source middleware stack to enterprise computing and provides support and services to its customers. HP, on the other hand, has developed the industry's first middleware product, HP Linux Reference Architectures, based on commercial and open source software to provide choices and ease of deployment to customers with a hybrid computing infrastructure.

5. Business Intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence software analyzes a wide range of data and facilitates decision-making processes in all aspects of corporate business practice. The most popular open source software in this category includes customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP).

In the BI segment, Compiere, Inc. is one of the popular package providers. With more than 800,000 downloads as of July 2005, Compiere's ERP and CRM for small-medium enterprises have gained visibility and acclaim in the open source community. Developing the software package under an open source model, Compiere relies primarily on providing support, training and other services to sustain the business.

SugarCRM maintains two versions of the CRM suite: Sugar Open Source can be freely downloaded from, while Sugar Professional is an enterprise-class product with enhanced features assuring mission-critical interactions for a business. In addition, fee-based support and one-year upgrades are provided with Sugar Professional.

Other open source CRM software includes OpenSourceCRM and Anteil CRM. These open source business intelligence products try to win customers to an open source business model while, at the same time, competing with proprietary offerings.

6. Client Components

Desktop productivity software falls into this segment. In the early stage of the open source movement, the well-known X-based environments laid the foundation for open source desktop graphical user interfaces for Linux, such as KDE and GNOME.

Over the years, innovations and progress along the open source movement have allowed open source products to match the capabilities of products available on the Windows desktop. Among these open source offerings, OpenOffice provides similar functionalities to those of the Microsoft Office suite and is gaining traction as a replacement for Microsoft Office. Mozilla Firefox, Nautilus, Konqueror, and K-Meleon are web browsers, Firefox being the most popular of these. Personal information management open source software includes Ximian Evolution, phpGroupWare, KDE Kolab Client, and so on. Thunderbird, an e-mail client, complements Firefox browser, and with advanced e-mail sorting functions, first-rate spam filters, and superior performance, won Product of the Year Award of the PC World in 2005.

More collaborative effort in the open source community is carried out on the desktop applications. The Open Source Development Lab initiated a Desktop Linux Working Group with support from HP, IBM, Sun, Intel, Novell, Red Hat, and The focus is on open source desktop solutions as well as interoperability among different systems. Huge savings on desktop applications are anticipated once solutions for smooth migration and compatibility between open source software and proprietary software are in place.

7. Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) and Cellular Phones

Open source software plays a key role in PDA due to its low costs and the commodity nature of the segment. Linux is a popular operating system for mobile phones. There are abundant open source applications for handheld devices, from basic personal information management (PIM) software (calendar, contacts, todo, notes) to advanced interactive software (web browsing, email, chat, network connectivity, etc.). The most active open source community for this market segment is, whose goal is "to encourage and facilitate the creation of open source software for use on handheld and wearable computers."

Linux is reaching out to mass-market phones. For example, Motorola began selling Linux-powered mobile phones in 2003. Building its futuristic A760 "smart phone" on embedded Linux, Motorola expects to ship more than half of its mobile phones on Linux by 2007.

In the cellular phone market, the demand for web browsing is on the rise. To seize the trend, Nokia turned to WebCore, an open source web-rendering engine, to implement the feature on its offerings. This move not only saves Nokia resources for developing a web browse on its own, but also gives Nokia first-mover advantage by shortening the product release cycle.

8. Digital Home

Consumer electronics companies are already using Linux-powered software in digital entertainment devices, such as TiVo DVRs and Shape RCA media players. Consumers in this segment do not much care about dedicated features provided by proprietary software. "Good enough" open source software is apparently good enough for the home.

One successful consumer electronics product, TiVo, which records television programs in the home, is based on embedded Linux. With the advent of networking technologies such as WiMAX, millions of people around the globe will find home-networks more accessible and affordable. The demand for low-cost digital home software will rise. It would be no surprise if, with relatively low acquisition costs, Linux and Linux-based home software suite eventually dominate the digital home market.

Besides software providers, entertainment companies are beginning to embrace the open source strategy. Entertainment giants like Disney, Sony, and Time Warner are beginning to work with tech firms to add content protection, digital rights management, and Java application development tools for Linux.

In summary, as the software industry continues to mature and commoditize, open source technologies will provide the mass market a powerful and affordable alternative to restrictive and expensive proprietary software. The LAMP stack of open-source software, which includes the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, the MySQL database and the scripting languages PHP, Perl or Python, is the backbone of the future prospects for open source software. In his keynote speech at TechEd 2005, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer commented that LAMP is a competitor to Windows and Microsoft .NET. The efforts of the open source community to make LAMP more of an industrial strength suite and the growing adoption and endorsement of open source solutions among corporate customers and governments will make open source software ultimately more competitive and powerful.



As the software industry continues to mature and commoditize, open source technologies provide an alternative to proprietary software. The LAMP stack of open-source software, which includes the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, the MySQL database and the scripting languages PHP, Perl or Python, is the backbone of the future prospects for open source software.


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