Web servers, databases, PC and cloud operating systems, content management systems and smartphone OSs are among the many areas where open source software has become a major participant. Is the perception of open source changing? A new report attempts to find out. 

The seventh annual Future of Open Source report from North Bridge Venture Partners and Black Duck Software fielded 822 survey responses, the largest number in its history.

Solving Challenges

Michael J. Skok, general partner at North Bridge, said in a statement that “open source is eating the software world.” He added that, increasingly, “enterprises see it as leading innovation, delivering higher quality and driving growth rather than just being a free or low-cost alternative.”

The report found three major trends. First, open source is being adopted by more companies because of the challenges it solves. The business problems it is solving include lower costs, big data and systems integration, interoperability and security. Additionally, for 61 percent of respondents, innovation is a key benefit, and 48 percent find value in collaborative partnerships, which include working with competitors in industry-specific communities.

Second, quality is frequently being cited as a reason for adopting open source, replacing such previously top reasons as “freedom from vendor lock-in.” This demonstrates open source’s improving reputation; in 2011, “better quality software” was in fifth place as a reason for adoption.

Cloud and Open Source

The third major trend: government, healthcare and media sectors in particular are being driven by the collaboration encouraged by open source.

It is also clear that concerns about maintenance are fading. Last year, the report found that “lack of commercial vendor support” was the third-place decision factor, but now it’s dropped to 11th place.

Additionally, up through last year better security was the last place factor for open source's attractiveness, but now it’s become the second most important. Nearly half -- 45 percent -- of respondents chose technical capabilities and features as the most important factor this year, with only 12 percent choosing commercial vendor support.

Looking ahead, survey respondents expect that open source will affect government the most in the next two to three years, with 35 percent choosing that sector. Health and science was the second most frequently cited, followed by media, financial services and automotive.

Along with open source, the report noted that cloud-based Software-as-a-Service has moved up to become the top source of revenue generation, from its fifth place just two years ago. This demonstrates the close relationship between open source and cloud services, such as the rapidly growing OpenStack cloud platform.

Android, OpenStack Prime Examples of Success

The respondents are increasingly bullish on the prospects of open source. In 2009, for instance, 28 percent thought that more than half of purchased software would be open source in five years, and now that figure is 62 percent.

Although the report doesn’t specifically look at the dramatic rise of Android and OpenStack, those two open source success stories exemplify the way in which key corporate players have also driven the acceptance of open source.

Google’s shepherding of Android, for instance, was the impetus that drove the mobile platform to become the most popular on the planet. IBM’s recent announcement wholeheartedly incorporating OpenStack into all of its cloud products and services is one of the most important developments for that technology, just as Big Blue’s endorsement of Linux at the turn of the century made that open source OS acceptable in enterprises.