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More Firms Embracing the Use of Open Source Software

More Firms Embracing the Use of Open Source Software

Published By: Chicago Daily Herald
Viewed: 6512

Original story appeared in the December 27th, 2003 edition of the Chicago Daily Herald.

By S.A. Mawhorr Daily Herald Business Writer
Posted December 27, 2003

It used to be that companies would give away pens or notepads imprinted with their names.

Then you'd know who to call if you needed new a contractor or another supplier and you'd have the phone number handy.

In a sophisticated twist on this humble form of marketing, Vernon Hills-based Web Den Interactive is giving away software

"We don't have $100 million to buy T.V. spots," said JT Smith, director of technology at Web Den. "But there are millions of people developing, using and loving open source software."

The idea is that if you decide to download Web Den's software off the Internet for free and you find it useful, you might come back to them and pay for services such as customization or training.

True to the open source standard, Web Den doesn't get paid when someone downloads their software and they'll never really know just who is downloading it or how many people are using it.

But Web Den isn't worried about getting paid each time its software is acquired because the company got its money's worth when the program solved a long standing problem.

Web Den is a subsidiary of Lake Forest-based Brunswick Corp., which was having trouble exchanging information electronically with the small dealerships that sell its Sea Ray and Bayliner boats.

So the software engineers wrote code that allows desktop computers at the dealerships to exchange data with the more sophisticated and older computer system at Brunswick.

They call it the "business integration engine" and they released it on the Web because they figure there are plenty of small businesses out there who'd like to do business with big boys like Brunswick, a Fortune 500 company with $3.7 billion in sales last year, but just don't have sophisticated enough computers to communicate.

"Suddenly, smaller companies have a chance to get bigger business," Smith said.

Web Den's marketing ploy is just one way the business world is exploiting open source software.

Open source software is available for free on the Web and the most popular pieces have become mainstays of our cyber landscape such as Adobe's Acrobat Reader used to read files sent electronically, often as attachments to e-mail messages.

Not only is open source code available for free, anyone is free to examine it and offer fixes or upgrades. And true to the open source standard, there's no compensation for their contributions.

Perhaps the most famous piece of open source code is Linux, an operating system introduced in 1991 by a Finnish student named Linus Torvalds.

Thousands of developers around the world have added their two cents worth to Linux and it is becoming increasingly popular because it runs on a variety of equipment including personal computers, Macintoshes and servers.

Microsoft still dominates the world of the desktop with a 93.8 percent market share last year, according to IDC, the Framingham, Mass.-based research firm. But Linux is close to nudging Apple Computer's Mac operating system out of the No. 2 spot top with a 2.3 percent market share last year compared to Mac's 2.9 percent.

And Linux has made great inroads in the server market, capturing a 23.1 percent share last year compared to 55.1 percent for Microsoft's Windows.

"There is a systematic use of open source software and it is growing," said Nikos Strakos, research director for Stamford, Conn.- based technology research firm Gartner .

Not only are businesses taking advantage of the no-charge contributions of developers around the world and the no-cost marketing possibilities, universities and governments in developing countries are increasingly attracted to the low cost solution to computing needs, Strakos said.

For Brunswick, the open source model is just another way to "plant seeds" outside its traditional business.

Web Den is one of five enterprises in Brunswick's newest venture out of the gate last year. Brunswick New Technologies' includes five businesses that represent an effort by the company to serve all the needs of their partners in the boat business.

The 170 engineers working at the five companies create and supply everything from Web Den's data exchange program to computers systems for small business management, engine control and vehicle networking systems, global positioning systems and marine navigational systems.

"We want to be the Ford of the marine world," said Jay Bahel, chief information officer for New Brunswick Technologies.