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Gartner: The good news and the even better news about open source

Gartner has a warning for open-source enthusiasts, but it reads more like a celebration: open source will become more expensive and will be widely dispersed through SaaS. What's not to love?

Paula Rooney of ZDNet has some bad news for those promoting Linux. According toa Gartner report, Linux's cost advantages are soon to dissipate and software as a service will soon eclipse Linux as "the preferred IT cost-cutting method" (by 2013).

If true, in both cases Linux and open source win. What's not to love?

In the first instance, open source long ago ceased to be dependent on winning through cheapness. Yes, many CIOs still look to open source to deliver cost savings, but people aren't switching to Novell and Red Hat to save a buck, just as few (if any) have outright dumped Red Hat's for Oracle's discount Unbreakable Linux.

It's not about a price tag. It's about value, as Red Hat's Michael Tiemann emphatically stated at OSCON a few years back.

If Linux's TCO goes up relative to its proprietary competition, so has its value. Perhaps Gartner is simply predicting that Linux vendors will finally get paid their due?

This isn't exactly how Gartner sees it:

The costs to implement high-performance, mission-critical infrastructure around the OS will create counterbalancing costs to the savings in the subscription support costs on commodity hardware and associated open-source software. For example, much of the availability, management and DBMS licensing costs will remain proprietary, licensed software.

In addition, IT architects will confront the same issues of workload management, service levels, premium support, test, and certification that characterize other OS environments. Moreover, version control and incompatibilities will continue to plague open-source operating systems and associated middleware.

If true, Linux's rising value is more than able to justify a rising price tag associated with it. This doesn't concern me at all, and shouldn't pose any sort of a threat to Linux vendors.

As for the SaaS comment, well, open source provides the heart of much of the SaaS world. The only way that widespread SaaS adoption is bad for open source is if open-source vendors don't adopt open-source licenses like the AGPL. The AGPL prevents a project from becoming someone else's free lunch. It restores the open-source bargain that SaaS has forgotten: Give back cash or code. I suspect open source will increasingly acknowledge the SaaS opportunity with more SaaS-savvy licensing like the AGPL.

Now that we've waded through the "bad news," what's the good news?

By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises will use open source in direct or embedded forms.

Well, of course they will. They'll pay a bit more for it (closer to the value open source actually delivers), and they'll buy it in all sorts of forms, including SaaS. They'll do so because open source is the foundation for innovation in 21st-century enterprises.

So where's the bad news?