Alfresco's Open Source Barometer

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One of the biggest problems in the early days of free software in the enterprise was that nobody knew it was there. Typically software like GNU/Linux and Samba was smuggled in through the back door by engineers who just wanted to get the job done, without worrying about tiresome procurement procedures. As a result, there has always been a gap between the perception of open source use in businesses and reality.

That has been compounded by the fact that many of the early surveys in this area were funded by Microsoft, with the result that they “proved” a range of convenient “facts” about what was happening in companies. Getting alternative viewpoints – if not necessarily completely objective – has been difficult, because open source companies have until recently had far fewer resources to spend on this kind of soft propaganda.

That's changing, happily, and as more surveys come out a clearer picture of enterprise free software is emerging. One of the recent additions to the portfolio is Alfresco's Open Source Barometer. This is not an unbiased view, since it consists of an opt-in survey of Alfresco's customers. Because they are using Alfresco's products, they are more likely to be deploying other open source applications. And the fact that they bothered taking part suggests a certain enthusiasm which is likely to skew the results yet further. Counterbalancing these factors is the increased number taking part in this, the second, Open Source Barometer survey: 35,000, significantly up from the 10,000 who took part in the first survey six months ago.

Notwithstanding these issues, the survey offers valuable indications of what's going on in the enterprise today as far as open source is concerned. If nothing else, it points to larger trends and overall tendencies, even if the detailed figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The distribution of participants by country is largely unchanged, except that Germany now overtakes Spain as the third-largest group after the US and France. The UK maintains its miserable sixth position behind Italy. This is the first but by no means last indication in the survey that there is something seriously rotten in the state of enterprise open source in this country, as I've referred to several times in this blog.

As with the previous Barometer, there is the interesting phenomenon that users typically evaluate on the Windows platform, but deploy on GNU/Linux. I've heard similar comments from other open source companies and organisations like Eclipse, so this is probably true across much of the open source world. It's not hard to see why: Windows still owns the desktop, so when potential users download an open source program, it's likely to be for that platform initially. Deployment, however, is a different matter, and many choose to move across to GNU/Linux. This incidentally shows another of free software's big advantages: its cross-platform nature means you can try it on one and deploy on another. Such freedom and flexibility are powerful features in a heterogeneous enterprise world.

In terms of distros employed, the two leading names are Red Hat and Ubuntu, as in the last survey, which continue to pull away from the pack. Interestingly, SuSE – whose name is an acronym for “Software- und System-Entwicklung” - remains more popular in its native Germany, despite the deal with Microsoft, and the fact that in general Germany is one of the most switched-on countries in terms of open source uptake.

As far as the other side of the coin is concerned, Windows Vista notches up a user base of just 2%, with Windows XP on 63%, confirming the latter's almost immovable place in the enterprise – a huge problem for Microsoft and its business model based on continual updates.

In terms of the back-end database used, MySQL still rules the roost, with 60%, slightly down from last year. Second and third places are held by Oracle and Microsoft's SQL Server. Interestingly – and shockingly – UK has a far higher SQL Server usage than other leading European countries – 17% against 8% in France and Germany. For application servers, Tomcat and Jboss continue to dominate, with 72% and 18% respectively, very similar to the previous survey. The UK manages to do rather well here, with 76% and 14%.

One of the most interesting additions to the survey this year is a question about which office suite people use. Overall, OpenOffice.org chalks up a very respectable 24% to Microsoft Office's 66%. This is a much higher penetration than I would have guessed for open source on the desktop, and suggests that among those adopting open source programs OpenOffice.org is doing really well – pretty much at the Firefox level of success. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the UK, which manages only 18% compared to France's 28% and Germany's 34% (the latter probably boosted, again, by the historical roots of OpenOffice.org in the German StarOffice suite, later sold to Sun.)

Overall, Alfresco's Open Source Barometer shows the healthy state of open source across the board for deployment, but with Windows remaining strong on the desktop for evaluation. Against that, there is some good news for OpenOffice.org, which probably needs to do some more research in this area to get the message out that it is now a viable and increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft Office. In many respects, OpenOffice.org finds itself in the same position that GNU/Samba did all those years ago: one of the better-kept business secrets that now needs to be brought out into the open.

Now read Alfresco's Ian Howells on winning hearts and minds for open source.