Moody on Gartner: Math Is Right, But Needs to Show Work

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 18, 2008

Matt Asay at CNET directs readers to Glyn Moody's take on the Gartner Group's findings that 85% of enterprises are using open source software.

The Gartner numbers seem positive, and encouraging -- especially in light of the acknowledgement that the remaining 15% are planning to move toward more open source software in the near future. Then Gartner drops the bad news -- cases that Moody says don't end badly (they are usually remedied with a polite phone call) or even happen terribly frequently (12 or so cases a year) -- that 69% of companies have no formal method of evaluating and cataloging their open source applications, leaving them at risk of intellectual property liabilities.

Moody details briefly the differences in open licenses, and why they generally aren't a liability at all, especially if modified code is never used or distributed outside of the company that's modified it. He says that while mixing code with different licensing for redistribution can get dicey, especially in the case of the GNU GPL license (which has different constraints than some others), it still generally isn't an issue.

Moody spoke to Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center who indicated that while license violations happen, a civil phone call explaining the situation results in companies willingly complying. Moglen indicates that serious consequences for an infringing company would only arise from a willing, persistent disregard for the applicable license.

Asay makes the further point -- a good one -- that a company should plain and simple have a plan for managing software whether it be open source or proprietary. I'd go so far to add that a plan is needed, regardless of company size or industry (it doesn't matter that IT isn't the business's main focus -- it is necessary to know what is running, where). Part of software management is license management -- and though there are differences between development licenses, and end user licenses, there are overlaps.

Software has rules -- regardless of whether the source is open or not. Businesses (and users) shouldn't think (or be led to believe) otherwise. But the open source method -- and approach to upholding the licenses -- seems a compelling reason to use it, rather than a liability.