As part of my interview with Dean Drako of Barracuda Networks, he mentioned to me some survey work Barracuda has done. Barracuda talked to 228 enterprise customers and asked what advantages open source has over proprietary software, and vice versa.
The answers were a bit surprising:
First, open source's price tag is clearly an important driver. Yes, open source is much more than free, but it's often the first thing that captures the interest of an enterprise prospect (and, unfortunately, sometimes it's the last thing they forget).
But it's not just a question of price. Fifty-seven percent said that source code access matters, while 41 percent cited community code review as an important benefit of open source over proprietary software. Clearly, source code matters, whether the customer exercises such rights by proxy or directly.
Other things like bug fixes, which have been shown to be dramatically superior in open source, get taken for granted a bit. But take them away for awhile, and I would imagine that their importance would get called out by open-source users.
What about proprietary advantages over open source? Sixty-five percent cited a lack of vendor professional services as an inhibitor to open source (meaning, qualified vendors to provide the services, like an Accenture or Wipro).
There is some truth to this, though its veracity is fading quickly. Every major system integrator is actively providing some open-source services, and every one of them with which I'm familiar (SAIC, Accenture, Unisys, CSC) is rapidly expanding its expertise well beyond Linux to cover open-source databases, middleware and applications.
In other words, I believe this is more of a perceived problem than reality.
The second biggest advantage--that proprietary software is easier to adopt--captures a moment in time, but one that is also in retreat. The politics of proprietary software will keep it entrenched for many years, but it's becoming harder to justify the bloat and expense of proprietary software. One has to be an ardent partisan indeed to maintain the proprietary status quo in the face of so much evidence that the expense and bother is wasteful.
Interestingly, neither open source nor proprietary software score well on "IP protection." Either they're both equally good, or they're both equally bad. Either way, they don't seem to offer distinct advantages, one over the other, according to the customers surveyed. The same holds true for security and code quality. It's aces between the two.
Looking at these numbers, I'd prefer to have open source's advantages. Professional services and automated updates are easy to provide. Source code access and community code review, and at market-beating prices, are not. If they were, more proprietary vendors would offer these benefits. But they don't.
Advantage, open source. It can do everything that proprietary software can do, and more.