Each of these phenomena has a role to play, but it's important to understand what each one is--and isn't. Of the four, open standards are the most critical, because making a choice today shouldn't preclude you from making a different choice tomorrow.
That's what open standards are all about. They're documents that outline agreed-upon conventions to enable different programs to work together, along with some means to ensure that they actually do--a process or set of tests. With open standards, your company can pick and choose among competing vendors and not be locked in to any one of them.
Many people seem to think that open-source software offers the same advantages. Not necessarily.
Open source simply means that the underlying software code is available for inspection and modification. Perhaps the most famous example is the Linux kernel, but there are many others: the Apache Web server, the Gnome windowing environment, the Mozilla browser, the Grid Engine resource management, and OpenOffice.org, to name just a few. In fact, the open-source phenomenon goes back more than 20 years to Unix and the BSD license originated by Bill Joy.
The best open-source projects are the ones that actually amplify a standard, increasing its acceptance in the marketplace and enhancing
Many people seem to think that open-source software offers the same advantages as open standards. Not necessarily.
The thing to remember is that licensing terms vary. If you're a CIO, you'll want to make sure you understand how each kind of open-source license works--GPL, Lesser GPL, Apache, Mozilla, BSD, modified BSD-- so you can determine whether it's right for the job at hand.
If you're in a brokerage, for example, and want to combine a chunk of open-source code with your own home-grown trading application, you can do that--but you may then be required to publish the code for your application and make it freely available. Or you may simply need to meet certain compatibility requirements. It all depends on the license. Sun, for example, licenses software in a variety of ways and believes that each type of license is valid in the proper context.
The most important thing about both open standards and open source is whether there's an open community behind it. What's the process? Can anyone join--competitors, customers, students? After all, innovations can come from anywhere--and frequently do.
I think open-source software owes a great deal of its popularity to that inclusive process and the richness it tends to bring to the technology.
The thing to remember is that licensing terms vary.
You can have people and companies contributing code, but that code doesn't necessarily become part of the mainstream. It may simply end up in the individual company's products. Making the source code open and available is good, but it doesn't necessarily mean that everything the community produces will be compatible.
Again, that's why standards are the most important factor. They give the CIO something to test against, to ensure compatibility and choice.
The key, after all, is to keep your options open.
Jonathan Schwartz is president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems.