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Open source became big business in 2009

Open source has always been an important sideshow for software vendors, but in 2009 it became the main event thanks to Google.

Open source has long been an important development methodology. The biggest surprise of 2009, however, was just how quickly it took center stage as a business strategy in the larger software economy.

The secret is out: open source is big business.

The reason? Google.

It's not as if open source as a business strategy is anything new. After all, the industry has been chattering about the business benefits of open source for nearly 10 years.

But not on Google scale. And not with the cachet and brand of Google blessing the idea. Despite the impressive sales and profits that Red Hat and other traditional open-source companies consistently deliver, the industry needed Google to take open source out of the realm of geekdom and into the boardroom.

Even Google needed Google. The Mountain View software and advertising giant has been involved with open source for years, running its Summer of Code and hiring up the best and brightest open-source developers, like Guido van Rossum and Greg Stein.

In 2008, however, Google stopped treating open source like a cute science project and source of cheap raw materials to power its search business, and instead started to actively court developers.

Open source stopped being a sideshow for Google and instead became the main event.

The developers were needed to create a groundswell of support for Google products like Android, and to dismantle the house that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer built.

It's working. In fact, I suspect it's working far better than even Google suspected it would. It's certainly working at a scale that I never imagined we'd see in 2009.

All of which makes me think that 2010 will be the year that the rest of the industry follows Google's lead and starts to use open source as a fundamental business strategy, and not simply a plaything to placate "the community."

So, instead of Microsoft experimenting with fringe products like its open-source CMS Oxite, perhaps we'll see Microsoft open source an ad server (or acquire OpenX?) in an attempt to open-source Google's core, just as Google has been opening up Android, Chrome OS, and other products that undermine Microsoft's profit centers.

Perhaps we'll see SAP open-source software that kidney punches Oracle, while Oracle finally gets its way with MySQL and uses it to sucker-punch Microsoft's SQL Server.

And so on.

The big surprise of 2009 was how open source stepped up its game to become Google's primary business strategy, and not simply a sideshow developer strategy. The big news of 2010 will be how quickly other technology vendors will follow its lead, making 2010 the year of mountains of new, open-source code...and a hugely entertaining spectacle.