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SAN FRANCISCO — Enterprise IT users are looking for the major Linux vendors to update their enterprise products less frequently and to give them much more guidance about what is included in the patches and upgrades.

That was the message from users at the Open Source Business Conference here May 22, who spoke about the benefits and shortcomings of open-source technologies.

“Enterprise open-source software development needs to slow down, as it is moving too fast,” said Dan Cahoon, an architect for H&R Block, in Kansas City, Mo. “It needs to be more predictable and have better road maps.”

Russ Danner, a software architect for The Christian Science Monitor, which has a large-scale open-source content management and delivery system, said he agrees, noting that the enterprise expected things to move a little slower and to be well thought out and communicated.

“While innovation can and does happen quickly, this needs to be rolled out and integrated into the product in a way we can handle and manage. If you are going to innovate and release quickly, the upgrade needs to be made simple and easy,” Danner said.

In developing its system, the Boston newspaper also looked for vendors that would give it the best service at the lowest price. “It’s also about value, and if that comes from open source, we’ll use it. If not, we’ll use proprietary solutions,” Danner said.

One of the benefits of open source is that it allows customers to get into the product life-cycle process and talk to vendors before they even begin designing their products, Danner said.

Oliver Marks, a Web portal senior manager for Sony PlayStation, in Foster City, Calif., said only open-source solutions meet the com-pany’s need for a granular level of control and allow its developers to fine-tune them to Sony’s specific needs. But, on the downside, there “is so much open-source software out there and a lot of competition, and that makes it hard for companies to find what they are looking for,” Marks said. He said that open source is also strong in some areas but weak in others, which could be scary for enterprises.

“For example, there is nothing out there that meets the needs of enterprise calendaring, and that’s very important to us,” Marks said.
The PlayStation team also looked for an active support community around the products it was evaluating, taking support demand off its engineers. “If we don’t have the staff to do this, we will gladly pay to get it,” he said.

For Wilson D’Souza, director of infrastructure software management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass., the flexibility of the community is a key motivator for using open-source technologies.

MIT also always looks for value, but not just in the domain of open source. “While open source provides great value in some cases, we continue to use proprietary solutions as well,” D’Souza said.
MIT is also increasingly looking at the commercial open-source sector to partner with companies innovating in areas such as content and collaboration.

“What I really want is a cross-platform solution that allows me to work offline and supports the Mac, Linux and Windows,” D’Souza said.
H&R Block’s Cahoon said he wants open-source management and administration tools, as well as better integration of products and systems into its existing legacy environment, which is not going to be replaced any time soon.

He also said the issue of the licensing of open-source software and patents is complex. “Licensing is such a pain—IP [intellectual property] is a big deal,” Cahoon said. “I’ve spent more time talking to lawyers than I ever wanted to. We have to understand all of these licenses. Companies need to really be careful about the software they choose and to make sure that this is … supported by the vendor.”

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