Dubai: Don't believe everything you read about tech camps siding only with either proprietary software (PS) or open source software (OSS), says a Harvard Business School professor.
Dr Josh Lerner, co-author of a new book, Comingled Code, said on a growing scale, businesses, governments and educational institutions are mixing both forms of private and free public software to achieve their needs, nixing the notion that it's one winner takes all in the software industry.
Lerner, who co-authored the book with Mark Schankerman, said: "Standard dichotomy between PS and OSS is exaggerated and misleading", and that both forms are increasingly being used in an evolving co-existence to get the job done.
"While they are different, each has strengths and weaknesses, but it's not like it's oil and vinegar that they are diametrically opposed," Lerner said.
"We did a survey across 15 countries of 2,000 software developers and 2,000 users comprising non-profit, governments and corporations. We found there was a very striking overlap on the user and producer side."
After crunching the survey data, Lerner said one of the things which stood out was "co-mingling was taking place here."
The big reason for the mixing, he said, is that quite often proprietary software that is heavily restricted by large corporate giants such as Microsoft cannot cover all user needs, who could then use free open source software to fill in the gaps.
Users are much more pragmatic these days about covering all their bases, rather than sticking to just one form of licensed software, he said.
Open source software is enjoying more of a marketshare as well-known versions of free software such as Mozilla Firefox web browser compete against licensed proprietary web browsers such as the Windows Explorer.
Another good example of a growing open source presence is the Android operating system on mobile phones as compared to the heavily restricted proprietary versions used by Apple on its iPhone or on Blackberry phones by Research in Motion.
A study done in 2008 by The Standish Group, for example, showed even then that open source software was making serious inroads as free software for everyone to enjoy and modify as compared to the proprietary software sold by computer software giants.
At the time of its release, The Standish Group chairman Jim Johnson said open source software was costing proprietary software companies big bundles of cash. "It is the ultimate in disruptive technology, and while it is only 6 per cent of [an] estimated $1 trillion IT budgeted annually, it represents a real loss of $60 billion [Dh220.34 billion] in annual revenues to software companies," said Johnson.
Open source software was started in 1984 through the Free Software Foundation which launched the General Public Licence system in which anyone could run free open source software, make changes to it and redistribute revamped copies for expanded public use as long as there were no restrictions placed on users.
In Lerner's recent survey of countries around the world, he learned that there has been a "huge growth in open source activity over time".
Aggregate figures drawn from survey findings suggested that 26.8 per cent of respondents were using both proprietary and open source software, while 67.3 per cent on average said they used only proprietary software and 5.9 per cent said they only used open source exclusively.
Turkey scored highest in the survey's mixed-use category with 43.9 per cent of respondents saying they used both forms, while Singapore respondents scored lowest for mixed-use with only 10 per cent saying they used both.
Not surprising then that Singapore respondents were the highest users (87.7 per cent) of proprietary software only.
The country to report the highest rate of open source only was Brazil with 12.9 per cent.
At the end of the day, Lerner said that everyone involved in the high-stakes world of international computing should accept that both forms of private and free public open source software are here to stay… together.
He compared the existence of both to animals living in a forest. "Like warblers and falcons in the eco-system, there is both co-habitation and competition between OSS and PS," Lerner said. "We need policies that facilitate both cohabitation and the competition."