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Open source may be the winner in the consumerization of IT

As IT dollars shift to consumers, open source continues to win.

The technology world has been turned on its head. As Tom Krazit notes in his blog, today's hardware and software industry is increasingly focused on consumer IT, not enterprise IT:

Not so long ago, if you were technology-oriented and wanted to do something innovative and cool that would make you rich, you wrote a new piece of enterprise software. Or you came up with a new design for a server. Or you figured out a way to link businesspeople with their offices while on the road. Of course, there are always exceptions, but enterprise computing, most believed, was where the real innovation occurred. Those innovations paved the way for the computing industry as we know it today....

However, keeping an enterprise's IT operation up and running is rapidly turning into the technology equivalent of plumbing, or maybe electricity: extremely vital pieces of infrastructure that no longer attract the type of young engineering enthusiasts who built Silicon Valley. Those people are now building Web 2.0 applications. They're designing social-networking communities or virtual worlds, not some new piece of enterprise-resource planning software that's going to set the world afire.

Enterprise IT = plumbing. Consumer IT = cool.

That's why Intel's CEO declared that IT is increasingly driven by consumers, not enterprises:

Consumers today are the No. 1 users of semiconductors; they passed over IT and government in 2004. That's a big change; prior to that period, most people developing silicon in the industry were focused on the main market--the enterprise and IT. Today, most of us are focused on the consumer market as drivers.

It's also why, according to Oracle's president, Charles Phillips, the enterprise IT market is consolidating into a few mega-companies like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and SAP. He claims that there is no IPO market beyond these mammoths.

Perhaps. It has been interesting to see that one area of enterprise IT continues to thrive: open source. Open-source vendors like MySQL and Red Hat continue to grow at a rapid clip. Perhaps the future of enterprise IT is a series of painful episodes where open-source projects and vendors eat away at the soft underbelly of proprietary IT until it eventually is consumed.

Painful for some, but it's interesting that the one common winner to both the continued enterprise IT market and the new consumer IT market is open source. Open source is increasingly the foundation for both. This leads to interesting crossover opportunities.

What do I mean? The common IT infrastructure between consumer IT (the web is powered by open source) and enterprise IT (increasingly powered by open source) may well lead to a blending between the two. Consider Alfresco's announcement today that it has integrated with Facebook. Enterprise Content Management in Facebook? I admit that I've been somewhat dubious about Facebook (I find it horribly confusing - its bloated UI is distracting), but last week I heard a few Fortune 50 financial services companies tell me about their Facebook plans and I was blown away by how consumerized IT is becoming....

If everything is based on the same common platform - Linux, MySQL, JBoss, etc. - then it makes integration between the old world and the new world much easier.

One thing is clear: the old world of bloated enterprise applications is changing. Perhaps the shift away from enterprise software has more to do enterprise software companies wasting the time, attention, and intelligence of enterprise IT departments with bloated, expensive, and poorly written software. Enterprise software does not need to be as bad as it is. It can be more like Google. Like Flickr. Like anything except what it is.

Disclosure: I work for Alfresco.