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Open Source: Vendors increasingly Turn to Open Source When Building Proprietary Software

By Dick Weisinger

The Zenoss survey we cited in yesterday’s blog found that 98 percent of companies have Open Source software running somewhere in their companies.  It turns out that even SAP is changing its mind about Open Source.   SAP has long been a symbol of traditional proprietary software company.   And in a previous world when things were more black and white, Open Source and proprietary software where distinctly different and opposite things.  That distinction is not so clear any more.   Claus von Riegen says at SAP that they’ve changed from asking, “Why open source?”  to start asking “Why not?”  Even Von Riegen’s title at SAP, “director of technology standards and open source”,  highlights a change both in SAP strategy and thinking.

Like most companies, SAP has now come to the conclusion that, when used carefully, Open Source can provide competitive advantage.  Part of their change in thinking may also have been the feeling that not using Open Source actually was putting them at a competitive disadvantage.  Vendors are finding that for many parts of the software that they build, they don’t always need to re-invent the wheel.  Vendors can save time and resources by selecting Open Source components that provide non-differentiating features of the software, allowing them to focusing on other areas of their software that will allow them to differentiate themselves.

While the change in thinking about Open Source at SAP hasn’t really come overnight, their use of Open Source was brought to people’s attention when SAP recently signed on to use the Black Duck suite tools.  The Black Duck tools help developers locate available Open Source software and then assist them in making sure that the code is used in a way that complies with the code’s  license.  SAP plans to deploy the Black Duck tools generally across all its developers by some time in 2011.

Francis Ip, head of global technology and legal compliance at SAP, said “with the continuously increasing importance of open source globally … it was necessary for us to scale our open source process through further automation.  We conducted an exhaustive search … and the Black Duck Suite was the best solution we tested. The Black Duck Suite will help us further automate and scale our open source process.”

Prior to this announcement, SAP had already been active with the funding a number of prominent Open Source projects that include Alfresco, Red Hat, MySQL, JasperSoft, Zend, Groundwork and Intalio.  And Open Source software had been used in SAP development, but the approval process and guarantee of compliance with licenses was often often slow and time consuming.

SAP’s announcement to start using the Black Duck tools is a good indication that we can expect to see SAP building more of their proprietary software with open source components.

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