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2008, a challenging year for Open Source

Next year is going to be a very active year for the Open Source community according to Raven Zachary, a research Director for the 451 group.

The 451 Group has found that while many vendors consider small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to be a 'hot market' for adopting open source software, the SMB market opportunity for open source software vendors is actually limited.

SMB customers are highly cost-conscious and generally lack the IT resources to effectively manage anything beyond the simplest open source software.

Easy-to-use open source software can be difficult for software vendors to make money from, but more complex or component-based open source software is unpalatable to the majority of the SMB market, unlike the historical and continuing success of open source software in the enterprise market.

The 451 Group sees Microsoft's dominance in the SMB market as a significant barrier for many open source software vendors attempting to infiltrate this market, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

The prevalence of Windows and Office, and the sheer number of IT experts with MCSE certification, mean that most SMBs will continue to use the technology they know, even if that means adjusting internal business processes to meet the technology available. Open source software that integrates with and supports Windows and other Microsoft products will have an advantage among SMBs.

"While Microsoft's market hold will be hard to chip away at in North America, many other markets in Asia, Europe, India, South America and elsewhere should experience rapid growth of Linux and open source software fuelled by local government and commercial directives and preferences," said Jay Lyman, Analyst with The 451 Group and lead author of the report.

Opportunities to sell open source products and services to SMBs do exist, but only under the right set of circumstances.

In fact, 451 analysts found that most vendors mix various strategies: offering hosted versions of the application (SaaS); ensuring that open source applications run on Windows; building easy-to-install, bundled 'software appliances'; and providing separate commercial licensing options and tools such as installers, which make open source more like shareware and packaged software, and thus more appealing to SMBs.

"Many of these strategies seem logical given the variety of users in the SMB market, and this may prove wise as vendors are able to gauge what is working and adjust accordingly," said Raven Zachary, Open Source Research Director.

The report comes nearly five month after The 451 group (opens in new tab) suggested that the "big four" systems management vendors were "ripe for a shake-up from open source systems management players".

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.