Don't call it a tipping point yet, but price is starting to become less important for open source software adoption.
As usage has grown over the past year, functionality, ease of installment and interoperability have become increasingly important for those entering and expanding inside of the open source arena.
"What has transpired just in the past 12 months I think has been incredible," said John Andrews, chief operating officer at Evans Data Corp., in Santa Cruz, Calif. "What we're hearing is the general population going from worrying that this stuff doesn't work at all to saying that it works better."
Evans Data conducted a spring survey that found that 23% of programmers are using Eclipse, up from 15% in the fall of 2004. It mirrors a Forrester Research Inc. study, which pegged Eclipse platform usage in more than 50% of potential IT shops. That study also found that Europe and the Asian Pacific region are matching the North American usage pattern.
"Open source has become a global phenomenon," Andrews said.
Pierre Fricke, director of product management for open source software vendor JBoss Inc. in Atlanta, said the proving ground for open source will be whether the open process can create better features and functionality than behind-the-scenes vendor development.
"There's a Darwinistic element to open source that the best will rise to the top," he said. "Bad open source software will go nowhere. It has to rise or fall on its own merits."
Fricke added that developers can see the code before they use the software and they can switch to another product without penalty or wasting an already-paid license, reinforcing his survival-of-the-fittest view.
Of course, the price remains attractive. At the JavaOne conference earlier in the month, Jonathan Schwartz, president of Sun Microsystems Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., commented that free software was a price point that can't be beat.
Yet, Andrews sees price emerging as a more important issue to small and midsized businesses while richer features, a robust online development community and support are bigger concerns for larger companies.
"They don't care whether it's open or proprietary as long as it's good," Andrews said.
He identified an influx of younger developers as a driver for open source as well.
"That's where they want to develop," he said.
For Fricke, the challenge JBoss faces is giving a hungry development community all the tools it desires. While the company made a splash with aspect-oriented programming and its Enterprise JavaBeans 3.0 support, more will be flowing from its pipeline.
JBoss plans to upgrade it business process management product to compete with full-service vendor offerings and Fricke added that an enterprise service bus with full support for the Java Business Integration standard should be coming in 2006.
"What we want to make sure of with each release is that it's easier to consume, saves you labor and is more reliable compared to closed source products," he said. "Without that we're not going to get very far."