Ten years ago, open source software (OSS) was more like a toy for independent software vendors (ISVs) in China: Only the geeks in R&D played around with it. However, the software industry has been developing quickly in China throughout the past decade, and technology trends such as service-oriented architecture (SOA), business process management (BPM), cloud computing, the mobile Internet, and big data are driving much broader adoption of OSS.

  • OSS has become a widely used element of firms’ enterprise architecture.  For front-end application architecture on the client side, various open source frameworks, such as jQuery and ExtJS, have been incorporated into many ISVs’ front-end frameworks.  On the server side, OSS like Node.js is becoming popular for ISVs in China for high Web throughput capabilities. From an infrastructure and information architecture perspective, open source offerings like Openstack, Cloudstack, and Eucalyptus have been piloted by major telecom carriers including China Telecom and China Unicom, as well as information and communication solution providers like Huawei and IT service providers like CIeNET. To round this out, many startup companies are developing solutions based on MongoDB, an open source NoSQL database.
  • Familiarity with OSS is becoming a necessary qualification for software developers and product strategy professionals. Because of the wide usage of OSS among both vendors and end users, working experience and extensive knowledge with OSS is becoming a necessary qualification not only for software engineers, but also an important factors for product strategy professionals to establish appropriate product road maps and support their business initiatives.
  • OSS poses a challenge to commercial software sales in China. OSS is playing an increasingly important role in helping ISVs enrich their commercial business solutions. For example, jBPM became very popular for BPM capabilities. Medium-size companies providing website building services are using Drupal as the foundation of their solution. But companies with experienced IT professionals are also replacing their commercial software with OSS, especially for application life-cycle management. For example, many startup companies are using trac for requirements management to replace Rational RequisitePro, MySQL Workbench for database design to replace Sybase PowerDesigner, and Selenium for web application testing to replace HP Mercury LoadRunner.
  • End user companies should aim for balance in their OSS adoption. All major software vendors have a strategy to embrace OSS but add proprietary extensions and support services around it. This is good for end user companies with very limited internal IT resources, as they benefit from wide experience with OSS-based solutions, and the expertise of a chosen vendor — but only if the vendor builds its extension following technical or industrial standards. However, if the end user company is like Huawei or Alibaba, with rich resources to leverage, it would be smart to establish the technology foundation around OSS by themselves, to be more focused on their key business strategy and to avoid investing in unused features as well as vendor lock-in.

What do you think about the future of open source software? How will companies strike a balance between OSS and commercial software?