When asked about JBoss (Open Source J2EE-based application server) in his August interview with Linux Magazine, Sun Microsystems' CEO, Scott McNealy claimed in so many words that Open Source is hampering Sun's ability to effectively market J2EE against Microsoft's competing .NET standard. [jboss.org]
This strikes me as wrong. In my more cynical moments it reads more like 'Open Source is hampering Sun's ability to effectively market their own J2EE server product'. Microsoft are closer to the mark with their 'software as services' angle. Although thats still not quite right. Open source software usually has no pricetag - for the software itself. But that's only a tiny part of the story. As all the software giants are so keen to tell us, TCO is the key. The upfront purchase price of almost any enterprise system is a very small part of the whole cost.
Where its really at is 'services supporting software'. This is what customers are really after. They want to know that if they have a problem, someone will be on the case to fix it. If your enterprise software is processing a million bucks worth of transactions an hour and it goes down, who cares if it cost 100,000 pounds or 10 pounds? It seems to me that software as a 'product' will be increasingly sublimated into software as a service. Support and technical expertise of those offering it will be the differentiators when it comes to choosing one over the other. Lets face it, your CEO probably couldn't tell you whether your enterprise was running Solaris, Linux or NT, .NET, J2EE or mod_perl. And probably doesn't care. He has more important things on his mind. And that's how it should be.
Of course, the technical merit of a product is important, but as software (purchase) prices tend towards zero and interoperability becomes more transparent, choosing a supplier becomes less 'who's got the best product on a features/price basis', but 'who offers the best service on a quality/cost basis'. If the software is free, try it all. Choose your shortlist, then find out what the service offerings are. Chances are, if its 'none' or 'the dev mailing list', however comfortable your developers are with this, your Ops, Support and QA teams probably won't be. The people who are carrying the can, those whose continued employment depends on uptime, they will want guaranteed, knowledgable and rapid support on the end of the phone. The legal team will just want someone to blame. But that's another story.